The recent rollbacks of methane rules by the EPA and Administrator Andrew Wheeler is both reckless regarding the health of the nation — and by extension the world — and a blatant illustration of government pandering to specific industries rather than being the watchdog of the nation.
Methane is a particularly toxic form of emission, 87 times more toxic than carbon dioxide and is already, today, responsible for approximately 25% of all emissions. If this isn’t enough, known carcinogens like Volatile Organic Compounds and benzene get spewed along with the methane itself. Does anyone need to be told how damaging this is to the lungs of all living creatures, but especially the young and the old?
As the oil and gas industry expands rapidly in Ohio, so does the risk of methane pollution. Methane is the primary component of natural gas and is emitted at all stages of the oil and gas supply chain.
The climate warming impact of methane over a 20-year period is estimated to be at least 86 times that of carbon dioxide. According to a 2018 publication in the journal Science, 13 million metric tons of methane was emitted by the oil and gas industry in 2015, representing the climate warming equivalent of all emissions from coal-fired power plants operating in the United States in 2015 and more than that of all the emissions from cars operating in the United States in 2015.
One thing that the oil and gas industry and environmentalists agree on is that millions of metric tons of methane leak into our atmosphere every year. However, the latest science and direct measurements prove the Environmental Protection Agency is underestimating methane emissions by up to 60%. Groups that actually care about our air and aren’t led by a coal lobbyist say the oil and gas industry leaks around 13 million metric tons annually. Pennsylvania can’t afford a single extra ton of this dangerous greenhouse gas to be leaked into the air we breathe.
Natural gas has succeeded in replacing dirtier fuels including coal as part of Pennsylvania’s energy mix. However, unless natural gas resources are developed responsibly – including the capture of methane emissions and leaks – it can be argued that we are replacing one pollution source for another.
Fortunately, this is something on which there is a growing chorus of agreement, and even the oil and gas industry itself has recognized the importance of methane regulations.
The biggest cause of global warming is all the carbon dioxide we’ve expelled into the atmosphere since the beginning of industrial times. The greenhouse gas traps heat in the atmosphere, raising temperatures on Earth. Even so, about one-quarter of the warming we’ve had so far is due to a less notorious greenhouse gas: methane, the major component of natural gas. Methane wasn’t much of a worry 20 years ago, but that’s changed since 2007, as methane emissions have accelerated, spiking in 2014 and again in 2018.
Natural gas is the fastest growing energy source in the U.S., and that’s a big problem. Last year, gas was the number one contributor to the growth in U.S. carbon emissions. When gas infrastructure leaks, it also emits methane, which recent research shows is even worse for the climate than previous dire estimates showed. And according to a new report from shareholder advocacy group As You Sow and policy think-tank Energy Innovation, it’s not even a good investment.
Without fanfare or mainstream news coverage, S&P Global Market Intelligence recently reported that oil and gas companies in New Mexico wasted more natural gas than is consumed by the state’s nearly 600,000 residential customers. Wasting natural resources is not the New Mexico way. Leaks, venting and flaring from the tens of thousands of wells across New Mexico amount to hundreds of millions of dollars a year in lost profit and tens of millions more in lost revenue to the state. Treating natural gas as a waste product instead of capturing and marketing this valuable energy resource is bad for business and bad for New Mexico taxpayers, and it has dire consequences for our children’s education, the health of our communities and the climate.
Methane emissions challenge the global oil and gas industry and the role and reputation of natural gas in a decarbonizing world. Credibly demonstrating near zero methane emissions is both an imperative and a competitive differentiator for companies in the early phases of the energy transition.
However, the oil and gas industry has a methane emissions data problem. The majority of emissions data is derived from desktop calculations, not real-world measurements. Around the world, research reveals that methane emission inventories consistently underestimate, and in some cases overestimate, real emissions. This uncertainty can compromise the integrity and credibility of reported information for governments, civil society and investors.
Improving the accuracy of methane emission estimates is necessary to instill confidence that progress is being made. This report outlines an enhanced approach to measuring and reporting methane emissions.
While the journey begins with increased and improved data acquisition, it does not end there. This paper explores three critical actions that executives must champion to improve data accuracy and earn stakeholder confidence that methane commitments are real.