Methane is emitted from many sources, including landfills, agriculture and oil and gas facilities. All methane emissions should be reduced, but targeting methane from the oil and gas industry presents a major opportunity to address climate change at little to no net cost.
Methane is the main ingredient of natural gas. When oil and gas companies allow methane to leak from their well sites, processing plants and other facilities, it leads to a massive waste of product and a waste of money. Such leaks contain toxic pollutants that are linked to asthma, cancer and other illnesses. Reducing these leaks can therefore do a lot to address climate change, improve air quality, save money and save lives.
A growing number of oil and gas companies have recognized the urgency of solving this problem. Small, independent companies, as well as the world’s biggest oil and gas producers, have spoken publicly about the need to minimize emissions quickly.
Environmental Defense Fund has been closely studying oil and gas methane emissions in the Permian Basin — the nation’s largest oilfield — for the past three years and have consistently found high levels of methane emissions. The Permian emits double the methane pollution of any other basin, and new data released just this week confirms that, at many facilities, massive methane leaks have persisted for months on end. Even some of the practices designed to reduce methane emissions — such as flaring or burning gas rather than venting it directly into the atmosphere — aren’t always working. According to the Permian research, about 10% of these flares are malfunctioning or unlit, creating excessive waste and pollution that can and should be avoided.
Despite the many benefits and feasibility of methane reductions, Texas has been slow to enforce any kind of real action that can help keep this pollution out of the air and in the pipeline. Texas emits more methane than any other state.
While some oil and gas companies have rightly set ambitious methane reduction plans, it’s far from the universal practice in Texas. As the Permian research indicates, some leaks persisted for months even after operators were notified.
Several other oil and gas producing states — including California, Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wyoming — have implemented rules to reign in oil and gas pollution. And they’ve done so without any negative economic impacts to the industry. Texas, on the other hand, has been noticeably silent at best and defiant at worst.
Texas’ lack of effort to reign in methane emissions and stop its excessive flaring habit is exactly why we need the Environmental Protection Agency to step in. Last month, the agency proposed new standards that will require oil and gas companies to regularly check their facilities for emissions and fix the problems that are leading to runaway pollution. They are also expected to take the rule a step further with a supplemental proposal that will hopefully end the practice of routine flaring and require better monitoring at smaller well sites — both of which are significant issues in Texas. That will keep pollution in check, reduce the waste of valuable energy resources and help save money in the process.
As the climate crisis worsens, investors, consumers and other stakeholders are demanding cleaner sources of energy. Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its 6th climate assessment, which included an entire chapter on the importance of reducing methane emissions in order to help slow the rate of global warming. A few months later at the United Nations climate conference, over 100 countries signed a pledge to reduce 30% of methane emissions by 2030 in order to help address the climate crisis. The world is demanding an end to runaway methane emissions, and oil and gas is the fastest, cheapest way to achieve that.
EPA’s efforts to reduce oil and gas emissions can help provide assurance to the world that this pollution can be brought under control. In fact, dozens of oil and gas companies, as well as their trade associations, have welcomed EPA’s efforts to regulate methane precisely because it can help ensure the responsible production of oil and gas.
Any Texan who cares about having a stable environment and responsible energy production should support national efforts to better control methane. And the state’s energy producers and policy leaders ought to embrace — rather than combat — the implementation of proven methods that can cut pollution and save money. Methane controls are the right move for Texas. The sooner we acknowledge that, the sooner we’ll get strong, effective standards that work for Texas communities.