Casper Star Tribune: Statewide oil and gas air quality efforts offer opportunity to grow innovative jobs in Wyoming

It has been a roller coaster few years for federal methane rules with the latest twist coming last month when a federal judge in Casper stayed federal regulations on methane emissions from public and tribal lands across the U.S. While supporters and detractors of these policies continue to argue the merits and legal standing of the rule, what is lost in the debate is the negative impact this uncertainty is creating for Wyoming’s burgeoning methane detection and mitigation industry.

This industry has grown exponentially in the United States as technologies have developed that allow oil and gas producers to detect, identify and repair methane leaks on site quickly and cheaply. And since methane is the main component of natural gas, these technologies not only keep the Cowboy State’s air clean, they also keep more product in the pipeline for taxpayers and royalty holders. Today, more than 100 companies have headquarters in the U.S., and there are more than 500 methane mitigation facilities located across the country in 46 states, including Wyoming. 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 further with sensible statewide regulations modeled on the successful ones enacted and enforced by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in the Pinedale area. Nationwide, companies have already experienced up to 30 percent business growth in states with methane regulations.

The methane mitigation industry has continued to thrive in Wyoming, despite the uncertainty of the federal methane rules because Governor Mead and his administration have been tremendously thoughtful in proposing and enacting sensible rules to limit pollution and waste in western Wyoming. However, this policy is regionally limited, and as oil and gas development in the state grows, such as the large new 5,000 well Converse County oil and gas project currently under consideration by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, as well as increased drilling in Campbell and Laramie counties, Governor Mead and his administration should continue to show leadership in this area by expanding Wyoming’s existing policy to include more frequent inspection and repairs of methane leaks statewide.

While the Converse County project could be a tremendous boon to Wyoming’s economy, without sensible waste and pollution reduction measures in place, this new development will lead to the waste of millions of dollars’ worth of Wyoming natural gas and hundreds of tons of pollution. According to a recent report, Wyoming already loses an estimated $51 million to $96 million worth of natural gas annually due to leaks, flaring and venting. And that means Wyoming taxpayers miss out on an additional $8.8 million to $16.1 million each year in lost revenue. These problems will only increase if thousands of new wells are drilled in the eastern part of the state without sensible leak inspection requirements that will help capture these lost Wyoming resources and revenues.

Governor Mead and his administration deserve praise for their efforts to improve Wyoming’s oil and gas air quality regulations and the state’s economy. And as global production of natural gas is expected to increase by more than 60 percent over the next 25 years and the global market for methane mitigation technologies correspondingly grows, Wyoming companies stand ready to capitalize on their competitive position if the state continues to lead on important air quality and waste reduction measures such as statewide leak inspection requirements.

As Wyoming’s current regional policy demonstrates, thoughtful regulations can be implemented that reduce harmful pollution while also supporting job creation and economic growth. The methane mitigation industry stands ready to help further grow Wyoming jobs and cut wasted resources through sensible statewide leak inspection requirements.