The Environmental Protection Agency released on Thursday new standards for methane pollution from new and modified oil and gas equipment. These are the first-ever national standards for methane pollution for the oil and gas industry, the largest source of methane emissions. Texans may be poised to benefit most from these new standards since the industry is producing more methane here than in any other state in the county.
Good for the Planet
Methane pollution is responsible for a quarter of man-made climate change. Pound for pound, the gas traps more than 80 times as much heat on our planet in the short term as carbon dioxide.
Right now, the oil and gas industry is leaking millions of tons of methane pollution and toxic chemicals into the air that harm our health and speed up climate change. These industrial leaks are like an invisible oil spill happening every day. According to EPA, the oil and gas industry leaked nearly 10 million metric tons of methane pollution in 2014. The 20-year climate impact of those emissions is equal to the pollution caused by over 200 coal-fired power plants.
Texas is responsible for roughly one-third of these methane emissions.
Good for San Antonio
The rules will also benefit San Antonio’s air quality. When methane leaks, other co-pollutants leak with it. Many of these pollutants react in the air to form ozone, more commonly known as smog. By fixing these leaks, there will be less smog producing pollutants drifting into San Antonio from the nearby Eagle Ford shale. Air quality modeling done by the Alamo Area Council of Governments, as well as the University of Texas, show emissions from the Eagle Ford Shale impacting San Antonio ozone levels. It’s not a magic bullet for San Antonio’s air quality problems – unfortunately, no magic bullet exists – but every little bit helps when your city is facing a non-attainment designation for not meeting national air quality standards.
But that’s not all. Some of the toxic gases released alongside methane, like benzene, can cause serious health problems, including cancer, posing a risk to oil and gas workers as well as nearby communities.
The good news is that fixing the problem is affordable. After all, for the most part we are talking about a plumbing problem – fixing leaks. Technologies and strategies to reduce emissions are on the market now. Responsible producers are already implementing these strategies, including some of those operating in the Eagle Ford, and the U.S. companies that manufacture these tools and provide these services are poised to grow if these leading practices become the standard across the country. In fact, there are more of these “methane mitigation” companies in Texas than any other state.
Other energy producing states have already implemented similar methane rules to what EPA finalized and prove these rules work. Since Colorado took action on methane two years ago, industry reports that leaks were located and quickly plugged, and it didn’t negatively impact industry profits. California, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming, as well as the U.S. Department of the Interior, have also all moved forward to reduce oil and gas industry methane emissions.
EPA’s standards for methane emissions from new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry represents an important step toward keeping Texans safe and healthy and represents an important down payment for fighting climate change.
Top image: A facility with a large methane flare in the Eagle Ford Shale region. Photo by Mario Bravo.