The EPA News – Methane Edition

Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve talked a lot about pipelines and the fact that they leak. All pipelines will leak; it’s just a matter of when and how much they do. And, while we’ve been focusing on the leaks we can see (oil is pretty noticeable, after all), what about the ones we can’t?

Last Friday, Rick Beusse, Erica Hauck, Kevin Good and Richard Jones of the EPA’s Inspector General office published a report stating that in 2011, more than $192 million worth of natural gas was lost due to leaks in pipelines. This, of course, resulted in higher prices paid by the consumer, as well as potentially having serious environmental impact.

Up to now, the EPA has had a program that encourages natural gas companies to reduce their methane emissions voluntarily, but doesn’t require them to do so. Needless to say, as in most self-regulating schemes in the oil and gas industry, it hasn’t worked.

The IG report stated

“While the Natural Gas STAR program has been successful in reducing methane from other segments of the industry, this voluntary program has achieved limited reductions from leaking distribution pipelines, due largely to financial and policy barriers. For example, LDCs [local distribution companies] generally have had to bear the upfront capital expenditures to repair leaks, while the savings from these repairs have accrued to the consumer, thus creating a disincentive for LDCs to repair non-hazardous leaks.

“While the natural gas distribution sector is not the largest emitter of methane, it is one of the industry sectors included in the 2014 interagency methane strategy. The EPA should partner with PHMSA to reduce methane emissions from both a safety and environmental perspective, and develop a strategy to address financial and policy barriers. The EPA also needs to set goals and track its progress in reducing emissions from distribution pipelines through voluntary approaches to determine if future regulation would be appropriate.”

Why all the fuss about methane? Because methane is a greenhouse gas that traps 86 times more heat than CO2 does over a 20-year period. In 2013, President Obama’s Climate Action Plan stated that “curbing emissions of methane is critical to our overall effort to address global climate change.” 

Along the same lines, BlueGreen Alliance released a report earlier in the week recommending that the U.S. replace pipelines every 10 years, rather than every 30. This makes sense, as methane leaks typically occur in older pipelines made of cast iron or unprotected steel, which are more prone to cracking and corrosion.

These are just the latest in a number of recent reports warning about major methane emissions from the natural gas sector and/or criticizing the EPA for not doing enough to curb methane emissions. A Cornell University study from earlier this month states that 40 percent of the oil and gas wells in parts of the Marcellus shale region will probably be leaking methane into the groundwater or into the atmosphere, and a study released in May by the  University of Colorado at Boulder found methane leaks from oil and gas development in Colorado were three times greater than they had been predicted to be by emissions inventory estimates. And in May, two Cornell researchers said the EPA is drastically underestimating the potency of methane, and that not enough is being done to reduce methane emissions in the U.S. 

 Meanwhile, you have idiots like both major party candidates running for West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District seat in the U.S. House, who claim that climate change is best left for other countries to deal with, and that it’s not our problem…


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