As the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine grinds on, the world is focused on finding a replacement for Russian natural gas. Meanwhile every year, America loses nearly $2 billion worth of natural gas (in the form of methane) due to faulty equipment or inefficient practices such as venting and flaring at oil and gas well sites. This makes no sense geopolitically or for our environment.
Colorado and New Mexico are creating a blueprint for the nation to reduce methane waste and pollution with oil and gas regulations that offer environmental, public health and economic benefits. Last year, New Mexico joined Colorado in banning venting and flaring, and it is on the verge of requiring comprehensive leak inspection and repair, including at small, leak-prone well sites. Landmark state efforts like these make economic sense for operators and are common sense for protecting communities and the environment in energy producing states. As federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management consider new oil and gas regulations, they should follow Colorado and New Mexico’s lead with the same sensible methane protections.
In addition to wasting a valuable resource, oil and gas emissions contribute to unsafe smog levels and air pollutants that harm the health of all Americans. And methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the short term. The war in Ukraine adds even more urgency to aligning strong state and federal protections as oil and gas development surges.
The good news is that we have the technology and know-how to reduce methane waste and pollution from oil and gas operations while at the same time creating jobs and increasing local, state, and federal tax revenues. The methane mitigation industry is undergoing massive growth as policy makers have acted to reduce methane pollution and waste through new regulatory requirements. In states with strong methane rules, like Colorado, oil and gas companies are cutting emissions and repairing leaks to stop energy waste even as they grow.
Methane waste on federal lands alone means that every year $50 million in federal revenue is lost, funds that are sorely needed for infrastructure investments and other priorities across the West, including on tribal lands. This wasted gas represents enough lost fuel to meet the annual needs of 2.1 million households (almost as many as all those in New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming combined).
The outdated practice of venting and flaring natural gas for convenience has no place in an emerging energy economy that can reduce waste and harmful impacts on overburdened communities and the environment. And investors and leading companies are demanding action. A recent report, Find, Measure, Fix: Jobs in the U.S. Methane Mitigation Industry, found that “75 percent of the manufacturing firms and 88 percent of the service firms reported that if future state or federal methane emission rules were put in place, they would anticipate hiring more employees.” The industry’s service sector has nearly doubled in size since 2017, while the number of manufacturing firms has grown by one third since 2014. And more than 200 companies with over 750 locations across the country provide products and services to help the oil and gas industry reduce emissions.
Finalizing strong state and federal methane rules is a win-win, creating public health, energy security, and economic benefits. The methane mitigation industry is a proud partner in creating a new, cleaner energy economy and is set for growth with the right policy drivers in place. The sooner we align strong state and federal rules to end venting and flaring and find and repair leaks, the sooner we will reap the benefits.