Methane leaks are pollution — and waste

Annie Baxter Aug 18, 2015
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Methane leaks are pollution — and waste

Annie Baxter Aug 18, 2015
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The Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules Tuesday that represent the agency’s first crack at regulating methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

Methane is the main component of natural gas, which is produced for its own sake and as a byproduct of oil production. Though methane makes up a small share of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s much more powerful than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere.

According to Mark Brownstein at the Environmental Defense Fund, a lot of methane gets emitted—and wasted—across the oil and natural gas supply chain.

“There are leaks all across the system: at the well site, in the gathering and processing infrastructure, the pipes that take the gas from the wells and bring it to the compressors that send it across the country, the pipelines that send it across the country,” he says.

A report sponsored by Brownstein’s group found higher than expected methane leaks at natural gas gathering and processing facilities. And those leaks are costly.

“The amount of methane we believe is being lost from gathering and processing has a value of, like, $400 million to producers,” says the study’s lead author, Anthony Marchese, professor of mechanical engineering at Colorado State University.

It’s unclear how far the new EPA rules would go to curb methane emissions, since they apply to new and modified systems, not the existing oil and gas infrastructure.

Still, some industry groups are chafing at the proposed rules. Kathleen Sgamma with the Western Energy Alliance says producers are well aware it behooves them to limit emissions and capture natural gas where possible. 

“We don’t need to be told that from a government agency,” she says. “That’s in our DNA. Oil and natural gas companies are in the business of developing oil and natural gas for the purpose of making money. So where we can capture and sell a saleable product, it’s what we’re in business to do.”

But given the low price natural gas fetches these days, some producers might feel less compelled by those economic benefits.


 

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified a quote from Mark Brownstein. The text has been corrected.

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