Energy & Environment

Democrats find that oil and gas industry is ‘failing’ to address methane leaks

The oil and gas industry is “failing” to address leaks of a planet-warming gas called methane, House Democrats said in a new report on Wednesday. 

A report from Democrats on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee found that the industry is not using the latest science to inform its approaches to tackle leaks of the greenhouse gas.

“Existing oil and gas sector [leak detection and repair] programs are failing to mitigate methane emissions from super-emitting leaks. The principal cause of this failure is the unwillingness of oil and gas companies to prioritize super-emitting leaks,” the Democrats wrote. 

In particular, the committee found that all of the 10 companies it surveyed do not track, identify or maintain records on super-emitting leaks “in any organized manner.”

The committee also found that innovative leak detection and repair technologies were being used in pilot programs but were not yet being used at a wider-scale, limiting how effective it would be. 

In particular, it cited one case where company researchers supported permanently deploying the technology, but it was rejected by management. 

It notes that in this case, company researchers described greater awareness of emissions and leaks as one of the “risks” of deployment.

The report also suggested that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) measurements undercount methane emissions from oil and gas. 

It cited a leak from one company in 2020 that it said could be equivalent to more than 80 percent of the total methane emissions the company reported to the EPA from all of its Permian Basin oil and gas activities for that year.  

“The findings of this report make clear that thus far the oil and gas sector is not taking the steps necessary to significantly reduce methane emissions, particularly ‘super-emitting’ leaks that make up much of the sector’s emissions,” said committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) in a statement. 

“The oil and gas companies have a key opportunity—and a responsibility—to be a part of the solution,” Johnson said. 

Methane is a greenhouse gas that is the main component of natural gas. During energy production and processing, it may leak accidentally. Separately, companies sometimes let methane escape on purpose through processes called venting and flaring. 

The gas is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 100 year period, but it spends less time in the atmosphere. 

The committee’s report specifically looked at drilling in the Permian Basin — an oil producing region in West Texas and southeast New Mexico.

It sent letters to 10 companies seeking information on methane leaks: Chevron, ExxonMobil, Admiral Permian Resources Operating, Ameredev II, ConocoPhillips, Coterra Energy, Devon Energy, Mewbourne Oil, Occidental Petroleum and Pioneer Natural Resources

It said that all of the companies responded sufficiently. While the committee named the companies that participated, many specific details were anonymous in the report. 

In a statement to The Hill, the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas lobbying group, defended the industry’s approach to methane emissions. 

“This industry is committed to tackling the challenge of emissions reductions head-on while continuing to deliver affordable, reliable energy. We support accuracy and transparency in reporting GHG emissions and are continuously improving emissions reporting, including the accelerated deployment of cost-effective direct measurement options,” said an API spokesperson. 

The EPA did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment. 

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