Casper Star Tribune Op-Ed: Regional, state action on methane shows bipartisan sensibility of waste reduction efforts

Afew weeks ago, Democratic and Republican governors from across the West, including Wyoming’s Governor Matt Mead, announced their agreement that there are environmental and economic benefits to reducing methane emissions from oil and gas development and opportunities for the beneficial use of this natural gas resource.

Considering the controversies surrounding environmental regulations in this era and the fact that the 19 western states represented in the Western Governors Association (WGA) represents about two thirds of the nation’s oil and gas production, this policy announcement is an important signal that reducing methane waste and increasing the capture of valuable natural gas resources is something all sides can agree on.

But this shouldn’t come as a surprise in Wyoming. The state has long had a tradition of leadership on important oil and gas regulations. Among the first states to require cleaner, so called “green” completions at all oil and gas wells, under Governor Mead the state has also stepped out to reduce air pollution and natural gas waste from wells in the western part of the state where communities like Pinedale were suffering from unhealthy smog pollution levels.

And this tradition has continued in recent weeks as the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has announced its intention in the late summer to bring forth a policy to extend the successful leak detection and repair program from western Wyoming into the rest of the state. This is an important step forward that will ensure all Wyoming communities receive equal protection from harmful air pollution and ensure the economic benefits of the current production boom in eastern Wyoming is maximized.

Governor Mead and DEQ Administrator Todd Parfitt deserve praise for moving forward on these statewide standards because cutting methane waste is a proven economic engine. In fact, according to research from the business consulting firm Datu, Wyoming is seventh in the nation for clusters of businesses in the methane mitigation sector with 19 service, sales and manufacturing/assembly locations. And Wyoming’s methane mitigation industry is poised to grow with sensible statewide regulations. Nationwide, companies have already experienced up to 30 percent business growth in states that have acted to cut methane.

All of this is made more important given the reporting done by this paper of a recent study released by the journal Science that found that methane emissions from oil and gas development in the United States are 60 percent higher than originally thought, and are wasting $2 billion worth of natural gas resources every year.

As the methane study in Science makes stunningly clear, the United States, and particularly the west, has a methane waste problem. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) promulgated common-sense rules, with considerable input from industry in 2016 to promote practices that would both reduce the amount of methane emitted into our air, while also saving Wyoming money through increased natural gas tax and royalty payments. Even better, the rule was designed to provide a pathway to help energy companies reduce emissions that would allow the development of natural gas to continue in a manner that was not cost-prohibitive to the companies or their customers.

This was possible because of the robust industry of companies both large and small in the United States that are already working together with the oil and gas industry in Wyoming to address methane waste in a cost-effective manner. Certainly, some regulations put in place under the previous Administration were tougher on industry than necessary. The rule addressing methane pollution, however, was not one of them.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration is in the process of rolling back the BLM rule, which addresses methane pollution on public lands, and the EPA rule, which did so for non-federal land. That is why the step taken by the WGA under the leadership of forward thinking governors like Matt Mead and Wyoming’s efforts to move forward on sensible statewide waste controls are noteworthy and important. Once again Wyoming is blazing its own path towards a vibrant environment and economy. Policy makers in Washington, D.C., should take notice.