Brown in The Hilll: We need stronger federal rules to address methane waste problem

Our country’s oil and gas sector may be booming. At the same time, however, a huge amount of energy is also wasted, literally lost into the air through inefficient practices.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. We have been working closely with oil and gas companies to standardize leak detection and equipment repair at these facilities and adopt other practices that limit methane waste and efficiency in the sector. Our members of our organization, many of which are small businesses, see and fix this inefficiency on a daily basis. However, we also see that many companies are happy to continue with the status quo unless required to do so.

That’s why it’s troubling that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler proposed eliminating the direct regulation of methane from the agency’s rules to reduce oil and gas pollution. This move would reward the companies in the industry who are unnecessarily driving up methane emissions. It would also undermine the progress we have made to reduce energy waste, potentially thwarting the development and implementation of important technologies that cut waste and pollution.

The oil and gas sector are the largest industrial source of methane emissions in the United States.

Each year, the oil and gas industry releases approximately 13 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere through venting, flaring, and equipment leaks. These emissions are wasteful, and since methane is the main component of natural gas, this cost the industry nearly $2 billion worth of lost product each year.

In 2016, in an effort to limit methane waste and curb climate pollution, EPA introduced new rules requiring oil and gas companies to find and fix leaks at their facilities.

Leaks can be caused by equipment failure or operator error, and the 2016 EPA rule required oil and gas companies to go beyond simply monitoring based on the age or condition of the equipment. These rules helped standardize leak detection and repair, limit climate pollution, and increase efficiency in the oil and gas industry — important progress that EPA is now working to undo.

Critics of the EPA rules argue that compliance is costly and burdensome for oil and gas companies. This is simply not the case. Once detected, it is almost always cost-efficient for the facility to repair these leaks. Methane is a valuable American resource and keep more product in the pipeline.

In a 2016 survey we conducted in Colorado after the state enacted legislation requiring routine leak detection and repair at oil and gas sites, 7 out of 10 oil and gas producers said the benefits of regularly checking equipment for leaks outweigh the costs. The EPA rules were developed with input from the oil and gas industry, and are common sense, cost-effective, and feasible pollution controls that should remain in place and working.

Both the federal and state rules have energized a new, and important sector of the American economy. The methane mitigation industry is thriving in the United States, and has created thousands of high-skill, high-paying jobs that cannot be off-shored.

The EPA’s proposed rollback would have severe and unjustifiable economic consequences. Eliminating these commonsense rules would drive up waste, undermine the important partnerships forged by the methane mitigation industry, and cost hard-working Americans their jobs.

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EPA’s proposal assumes that the oil and gas industry can and will reduce methane leaks on its own. But, while some companies have been proactive in working to reduce methane waste, methane mitigation companies I represent have seen that voluntary partnerships remain the exception, not the rule, and are simply not enough to address the vast amount of methane waste from the oil and gas industry.

We need strong federal rules requiring regular leak detection and repair at oil and gas facilities to address the problem of methane waste and increase efficiency in the industry. The EPA has a responsibility to listen to oil and gas professionals, and experts in the methane mitigation industry, and must leave federal methane rules intact.

Isaac Brown serves as executive director of the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions, an organization representing the interests of American businesses that develop and manufacture cutting edge technologies, install commercial technologies, and aid inspectors on the job to significantly cut methane waste on a cost-effective basis across the oil and gas supply chain. Brown previously served as an adviser to several senior members of Congress on energy issues.