By Isaac Brown and Audrey Mascarenhas
Published in The York Daily Record on September 17, 2021
Reining in oil and gas pollution will protect our health and the future of our climate. We all know that. But what you might not know is that cutting pollution will create new jobs and spur innovation.
A new report by Datu Research highlights both Pennsylvania’s emerging leadership in the methane mitigation industry and an opportunity to grow this industry. These companies help the oil and gas industry find and fix emissions of methane — a potent climate change pollutant and the main component of natural gas. They also employ people across the state, creating well-paid, family-sustaining jobs.
This industry is a triple win for our environment, energy security, and economy. That’s why Gov. Tom Wolf has long championed efforts to cut methane waste and pollution.
However, to ensure Pennsylvania’s families and communities enjoy the benefits of strong rules and cement his record as a climate leader, the Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed methane rules must close a loophole for low-producing, methane-spewing wells in the current draft rule.
The Datu Research report speaks to the explosive growth in the methane mitigation industry, from the folks that find and fix leaks all along the oil and gas supply chain to the companies developing next-generation technologies to facilitate leak detection and repair. Since 2017, the methane mitigation service sector has grown 90%, with the methane mitigation manufacturing sector up 1/3 since 2013.
As befits the second-largest natural gas producing state in the nation, Pennsylvania alone has about three dozen employee locations including seven manufacturing centers, five company headquarters, and 24 locations in sales, services or related activities.
Salaries in the methane mitigation industry are 10% higher than the national average and can go as high as $140,000 per year in an industry that cannot be offshored. It is servicing domestic oil and gas producers while building the necessary tools here in Pennsylvania and the U.S.
These jobs fulfill a critical mission and are crucial for meeting our climate challenge. Methane emissions pack a climate punch over 80 times greater than C02 in the short term and are responsible for 25% of the man-made warming we are experiencing today. Cutting these emissions is the quickest, most cost-effective way we can reduce the impacts of climate change now — and a critical down payment on our future.
Not surprisingly, Pennsylvania is once again called to lead on the issue of energy development. According to a 2020 analysis, scientists at Environmental Defense Fund concluded that oil and gas-related methane emissions in Pennsylvania total 1.1 million tons per year — more than 15 times higher than industry-reported data. The annual climate impact of these emissions is over double that of all the cars in Pennsylvania combined.
These emissions are an untapped opportunity to capture energy resources and grow our economy. Yet, Pennsylvania’s draft rule to cut emissions of methane from existing oil and gas infrastructure currently exempts low-producing wells responsible for more than half of the methane pollution from oil and gas sources in the state. It’s a gaping loophole in the rule that economics and science show must be closed: Consider current research by the University of Cincinnati’s Dr. Amy Townsend-Small concluding that many wells that produce less than a barrel of oil per day leak into the atmosphere more than 100% of their reported gas production.
Similarly, the draft rule should eliminate the provision that allows oil and gas operators to reduce the frequency of inspections simply because previous inspections did not reveal significant leaks. Both the latest research and experience of other states demonstrate that a large, uncontrolled leak can happen at any time and can only be detected with frequent, regular inspections.
The methane mitigation industry is proving itself an economic engine equal to the task of cleaning our air as we tackle climate change. It’s a job we’re eager to do as we do right by Pennsylvanians, the rest of the nation and the world.
Isaac Brown is executive director of the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions. Audrey Mascarenhas is president and CEO of Questor Technology Inc.