SFGate | 22 October 2014
Cleanup Urged for Heat-Trapping Methane Gas
The United States cannot afford to wait until it understands the amount of methane escaping from oil and gas wells, pipelines, and infrastructure before plugging those leaks, officials said.
“We know enough to act,” Judi Greenwald, a deputy director for climate, environment, and efficiency at the Energy Department, said during a panel discussion. “There are uncertainties about methane emissions … but we know enough to take some action.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Interior Department are considering a combination of regulations and voluntary programs that would rein in methane, a powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas that is the primary component of natural gas. After releasing a series of white papers earlier this year, the EPA is set to decide its next steps this fall.
Under a 2012 EPA rule, companies also have until 1 January, to begin using “green completion” equipment that can pare volatile organic compounds and methane emissions when natural gas wells are hydraulically fractured. The EPA could seek to expand that requirement to oil wells and could impose new requirements for compressors, pneumatic valves, and other equipment.
Regulation shouldn’t wait until all the data is known, California Air Resources Board chairman Mary Nichols suggested during the discussion at the Center for American Progress.
“When you’ve got as much methane out there as we do, from so many and diverse sources,” it could take too long to do the detailed analysis that might normally accompany Clean Air Act regulation, she said. “It’s easier to control it than to fully characterize it.”
Oil and gas industry leaders stress they are working to quell methane emissions voluntarily and have argued any new rules are premature until the US gets a better handle on the extent of the problem.
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