Pennsylvania Must Still Act on Methane

This morning (Jan. 14) the White House announced an ambitious and welcome goal of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry 45 percent by 2025. Methane emissions are a considerable threat to climate change, posing over 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that methane emissions will rise by more than 25 percent by 2025 without additional steps to lower them.

So when you think “quick action” on climate change, reducing methane emissions has to be at the top of everyone’s list.

John Walliser

Methane emissions from the oil and gas industry also represent wasted energy and economic savings – enough, by some estimates, to heat more than five million homes each year.

The good news is that the technology to achieve these reductions is available at more than reasonable cost to the industry (see ICF International’s Economic Analysis). ICF found that industry can cut emissions 40 percent or more for about one penny per thousand cubic feet of natural gas produced.

So the goals announced today by the White House are not only terrific news, they’re achievable. But this announcement does not excuse inaction in Pennsylvania, principally for the following reasons:

  • The White House proposal will only address new emissions. There are 10’s of thousands of existing wells in Pennsylvania that are significant contributors of methane emissions and smog-forming Volatile Organic Compounds, which affect regional air quality. Today’s proposal by the White House won’t directly address those emissions; rather, the EPA will seek voluntary compliance measures from industry. While such actions are to be commended, they offer no certainty toward accomplishing stated and necessary reductions goals. This means Pennsylvania must take the lead in establishing controls for existing wells within the Commonwealth.
  • The White House proposal looks to the states to act. Many of the elements of today’s announcement revolve around developing guidance for subsequent state action and implementation, meaning that Pennsylvania will need to take affirmative measures in addition to what happens at the federal level. Further –
  • We Can’t Afford to Wait. Today’s announcement is merely the start to a very involved and multi-faceted process that will involve development of guidance and regulation over several years and across multiple agencies. Given the immediate importance of reducing methane emissions, Pennsylvania, as other states have already done, can and should quickly design and implement direct control measures to address methane.