In response to the article “Gas producers: EPA methane rules too costly,” in the Jan. 23-29, 2015, edition of the Pittsburgh Business Times, it would be helpful to consider the actual costs and benefits of addressing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.
The Pennsylvania Environmental Council has called for robust controls on methane emissions.
Here’s why: Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. If you want to avert near-term acceleration of greenhouse gas emissions, reducing methane should be at the top of everyone’s list.
We recognize this is a new demand on industry. But let’s consider the potential costs — and the cost savings — in doing so.
Rules requiring routine leak detection and repair, coupled with other emission-prevention measures, could in fact save the oil and gas industry nearly $1 billion a year in wasted product. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, oil and gas operations emit about 8 million metric tons of unburned methane annually, and those emissions will rise by more than 25 percent by 2025 without additional steps to lower them.
And we shouldn’t automatically assume new rules would be patently prohibitive. A recent study by ICF International estimates companies could cut methane emissions by 40 percent or more for about one quarter of one percent of the price of the gas they’re selling.
If you look at the entirety of EPA data cited in part by the article, it actually makes the case for better controls. Although the EPA Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program does show that the industry’s total methane emissions fell between 2011 and 2013, the primary factor for that reduction was a new federal rule that limited emissions from well completions. Emissions from activities not covered by federal standards actually increased during that same time period.
And the framework announced by EPA won’t address existing operations. In Pennsylvania, with more than 100 years of oil and gas activity even before the recent boom in unconventional shale, this leaves a tremendous gap in controlling methane emissions.
Pennsylvania must adopt comprehensive controls that apply to both existing and new sources.
Much of EPA’s proposed program will in fact rely on state action. By acknowledging the true magnitude of the problem at hand, as well as the actual costs and benefits inherent in a solution, limiting methane emissions makes sense from any angle.