Oil and gas industry waste opens door for methane mitigation

The Hill

Right now, energy security is at the top of everyone’s mind, as the demand for natural gas and the influence of Russia on European energy markets is all too real. That global instability is also creating a surge in energy prices to record highs, which hits all of us in our pocket books. 

Despite the pressure on energy markets and consumers right now, inefficiencies in the oil and gas industry lead to the needless waste of $2 billion dollars worth of natural gas through the venting, flaring and leaking of methane.  

This wasted gas represents enough to heat 10 million homes in America for a year. Taxpayers bear a heavy burden as methane waste on federal lands alone costs taxpayers $50 million in federal revenue each year — funds that are sorely needed for infrastructure investments and other priorities. 

Fortunately, there is a path forward — and one that will create lucrative, high-paying jobs in the methane mitigation industry. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must follow the lead of states like Colorado and New Mexico, and enact strong protections against methane pollution that ban routine flaring and require regular inspections at small, leak-prone wells. 

Wasted methane also presents a threat to our climate. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the near term. This is alarming, considering new data from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirming that we must take action to drastically reduce methane emissions

Emissions at oil and gas sites also jeopardize the health and safety of workers as well as communities living closest to development. Other pollutants released alongside methane, such as benzene, can worsen asthma, cause cancer, cause immune system damage and even developmental problems in children. 

The good news is that we have the tools and technology to cut methane waste and pollution — and states like New Mexico offer a blueprint for federal action.

Earlier this month, New Mexico approved rules that will increase required monitoring and reporting at oil and gas sites and drastically reduce methane emissions. The new safeguards require commonsense standards like regular inspections of small, leak-prone wells and build on protections enacted last year which banned routine flaring. Both of those solutions are something leading operators are already putting into practice in the field. 

These rules are a win for communities, a win for local economies, and even for oil and gas producers who are able to bring more natural gas to market and increase revenue. Now, the methane mitigation industry is ready to support this effort at the federal level. 

Meanwhile, the methane mitigation industry is growing rapidly: Manufacturing in the methane mitigation sector grew by 33 percent in less than a decade, and services firms grew 90 percent in the last five years. 

These firms are adding new U.S. based locations, and in 2021 Datu Research identified a total of 748 employee locations for manufacturing and service firms — an increase of 26 percent over the number previously identified. A majority of these firms are small businesses — the economic engine for new job growth.

This industry can help in meeting emission reduction goals, especially if regulations for inspections at small, leak-prone wells are made stronger by the EPA. A recent report 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.” This means lucrative new jobs for folks across the country, on top of the public health and climate benefits. 

EPA, utilizing its air authority, must follow Colorado’s and New Mexico’s lead by finalizing the strongest possible protections against methane pollution by banning flaring and including inspections of small, leak-prone wells in its next supplemental rule making. This could protect public health and expand job growth across the country. BLM must also take action to fulfill their duty to cut the needless waste of our natural resources and ban routine flaring on public lands. 

Given everything we are facing on energy both foreign and domestic, our country needs bold, decisive action to stop the needless waste of our resources now.

Isaac Brown is the executive director of the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions.