Curbing Methane Emissions is Achievable and Economically Practical
Since assuming office in 2017, we have consistently seen the Trump Administration choose to rollback commonsense regulation in favor of looser standards for the oil and gas industry. One particularly egregious example is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to undermine its own authority for curbing methane emissions caused by oil and gas development.
Here is why this decision is misguided. First, from a public health perspective, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas responsible for 25 percent of the climate change we’re experiencing today. Second, the economics around methane controls are different than almost any other environmental issue in the U.S. Because methane is the primary component of natural gas, allowing it to be emitted costs producers in Colorado alone tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue from wasted natural gas.
It is also quite frustrating because there are currently companies providing the technology and know-how to identify and repair these leaks in a cost-effective manner. I serve as the executive director for the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions, a national coalition of businesses that provide the technologies and manpower to help the oil and gas industry prevent leaks from occurring, and when they do happen, to find and repair them quickly.
That is why we are grateful that states like Colorado understand that methane is more than a political football, but rather an environmental challenge that can be addressed in a way that allows industry to not only survive, but thrive.
In 2014, the state of Colorado worked with leading oil and gas producers like Noble Energy to develop the first-of-its-kind rules overseeing methane emissions from new and existing well sites across the state. The resulting rule, known as Regulation 7, is a case study of the positive results that can occur when industry and policymakers work together to address challenges.
As an organization, our view has always been that if a regulation is going to be developed, it should be done to ensure that not only are environmental targets reached, but the oil and gas industry is able to succeed. To see if Regulation 7 met this standard, we commissioned a survey in Colorado where we asked oil and gas executives about their experience in complying with the policy. The results were very informative:
From an environmental perspective, the rule worked. The regular monitoring put in place were leading to identifying on average, 2-3 leaks per sight. Importantly, most of these leaks (88 percent) were easily identified and 96 percent could fixed within a few days.
Equally important, 80 percent of the respondents said that in complying with the rule, they were either profiting as a result, breaking even, or paying slightly more than before and 70 percent said the benefits outweighed the costs associated.
Five years later, and under a new Administration, the state of Colorado is once again examining their methane policy. Earlier this year, Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division has put forward a smart and sound proposal to cut methane emissions by requiring stronger controls and leak detection and repair standards for oil and gas well sites across the state. Massive, super-emitting leaks can occur from any well regardless of production level or how old or new the well is. Plus, air and climate pollution knows no borders. It makes sense to have a strong baseline for all wells across the state.
The Center for Methane Emissions Solutions applauds Governor Polis and his administration for his bold effort on this policy. In an ideal world, the Federal Government and States would work in harmony with one another to set methane rules that address environmental concerns while supporting our economy. In the absence of a federal partner, it is even more important for Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission to adopt the Division’s proposal and strengthen the state’s methane rules.