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Rebuttal: The case for EPA’s proposed methane regulations is just common sense

On the Congress blog last week, Katie Brown argued against the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed new rules to reduce the 7 million tons of methane emissions released by the oil and gas industry each year. Those companies could easily be rallying around solutions to a problem they’ve already agreed is manageable. But instead, Brown repeats flawed, misleading and all-too-common talking points that minimize the problem.  

By resisting the commonsense rules, Brown and others are rejecting a great opportunity for industry to step up and embrace practical, cost effective measures that can create significant pollution reductions alongside strong economic growth. 

{mosads}First, know this: Methane emissions are a big problem that’s only going to get bigger. Brown and many in industry point to small-sounding leak rates reported in scientific research, including studies spearheaded by EDF, to suggest emissions are low. But it’s not the rate that matters, it’s the volume. And that volume is huge – again, seven million tons each year according to EPA. That has the same 20-year climate impact as 160 coal-fired power plants. And it’s enough wasted natural gas to supply over 5 million American homes. 

And as Brown herself points out, research indicates those numbers could be even larger than we realize. For example, one of the latest studies in EDF’s comprehensive series of peer-reviewed studies on oil and gas methane emissions shows previously unrecorded emissions from thousands of U.S. gathering facilities are eight times higher than estimates. Another series of studies in the Barnett Shale region found that overall emissions are roughly 50 percent higher than current estimates. 

And if we don’t take action, these emissions are projected to increase 25 percent in the next ten years.  

It’s clear we’re facing a big problem, but there are cost-effective solutions readily available to address it, and they can go hand-in-hand with economic growth and job creation. A 2014 report by ICF international found that the oil and gas industry could cut methane emissions 40 percent with an investment of less than one-third of one percent of the current price of natural gas.

Brown ignores cost-effective opportunities to solve the problem, falling back on industry boilerplate that regulations will hurt business. But the evidence proves her wrong: Last year, Colorado became the first state to directly regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. Since then, its oil and gas-producing areas had leading job growth. Weld County, the heart of Colorado’s boom, had the highest job growth in the nation at 16 percent, and just down the road, Adams County ranked third in the nation in percentage employment gains. In Wyoming, which enacted similar rules, employment grew 5 percent last year. 

These types of successful, commonsense regulations are not “superfluous” as Brown argues, but are necessary to provide consistent standards that get results and eliminate operational uncertainty. 

Without these regulations, we know industry won’t take comprehensive action to address the methane problem. One example is the EPA’s voluntary reduction program, Natural Gas STAR, which has been around for 20 years, but has seen participation from less than one percent of companies in the industry in that time. While some leading companies have made commendable efforts, that hasn’t solved the problem. And without the level playing field of sensible standards, it’s not going to. 

Brown’s suggestion that methane from the oil and gas industry is not a significant problem dangerously mischaracterizes the magnitude of industry’s methane emissions and the impact of those emissions on our climate. Squabbling about leak rates misses the point that we have a real opportunity to create standards that address methane pollution without hurting the economy. EPA’s methane rules are a win-win proposition, and one that industry – and Brown – should embrace.

Brownstein is a vice president in the Climate and Energy Program at the Environmental Defense Fund.


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