Game Time for Fixing The Gas Industry’s Achilles Heel

By  Ben Ratner and Sean Wright

GametimeAs the dog days of summer expire and football season approaches, many sports fans will anxiously scan their favorite team’s rosters for training camp injuries–finding everything from the innocuous, to the dreaded torn Achilles that already sidelined several pro players for the season’s start.

When it comes to the energy industry, methane emissions loom as the Achilles heel of natural gas. On the surface, natural gas appears to many as a star American player – abundant and cleaner burning than coal.

But unchecked methane emissions, which are 84 times more potent than CO2, undercut natural gas’ climate change performance.

This risk has grown particularly acute because the recently finalized Clean Power Plan, which targets carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, casts natural gas as part of a viable near-term strategy to win the climate game.

The spotlight on natural gas’ performance is only growing as more viewers tune in.

The difference is, while there is no sure-fire way to prevent an Achilles tear on the athletic field, we have the means at our fingertips to dramatically reduce methane emissions and help natural gas become a stronger player that puts more points on the board for the economy and climate.

New EPA methane rules announced Tuesday can be an important step if finalized in strong form, yielding four business benefits:

  1. Address investor concerns

Last month, investors with $1.5 trillion in assets under management pointed out that methane emissions from oil and gas are “threatening infrastructure and economic harm that will weaken not only the companies we invest in, but the nation as a whole.”

But there are solutions, and it’s time to up our investment.

As a representative from institutional investor giant CalPERS put it: “Regulation to ensure that companies manage, monitor and ultimately limit these potent [methane] emissions is vitally important.”

That’s because, although some proactive companies like Noble, Southwestern and a number of others are – to their significant credit – taking action to reduce emissions in the absence of national standards, volunteerism alone is not a credible approach to guaranteeing environmental protections across a sprawling industry with thousands of companies.

  1. Reduce needless waste

We have the technologies today to reduce emissions, not only benefitting climate and local air quality, but also boosting industry’s efficiency by producing one of its main products.

Statoil is one of the leaders in this area, and explains in this video that from a core business perspective, its use in Texas of military derived, infrared FLIR technology keeps more product in the pipes and increases sales.

Just as fuel economy standards for cars catalyzed a surge in efficiency in Detroit, a level playing field of methane regulations will boost efficiency and cut waste in the oil and gas industry.

  1. Create American jobs

Many of the technologies that forward-leaning companies are adopting to cut emissions are manufactured by domestic firms. In fact, nearly 60 percent of the companies in our burgeoning methane mitigation industry are small businesses, the growth engine of the American economy. The median wage of over $30/hour is more than 50 percent greater than the nation’s average.

This industry unto itself stands at the ready with cost-effective solutions. And it stands to grow.

As Colorado-based leak detection business Apogee Scientific said of its experience with state-based methane regulations: “We have seen first-hand that standards created in a collaborative, multi-stakeholder process can reduce methane emissions in a cost-effective manner that will reduce waste, benefit the environment and create American jobs.”

  1. Build a pathway for natural gas trucks

Some companies see natural gas trucks as a growth opportunity, while others have already invested and want to manage reputational risk. For both camps, methane regulations are a boon.

That’s because based on today’s methane emission rates, switching from diesel to natural gas  trucks can cause 50 to 90 years of climate change damage, raising serious questions about the wisdom of the choice. Upstream regulation of methane – in the vast supply chain the gas passes through before it reaches the trucks – is a key pathway to tilting natural gas trucks investments from risk to return.

Let’s start fixing natural gas’ Achilles heel this season. Getting strong methane rules over the goal line is a big piece of the game plan.

 

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