New findings by NASA scientists attributing a giant, invisible cloud of methane – nearly 5 times the size of Mexico City – over the southwestern U.S. to the region’s sprawling web of oil and gas facilities raise important new concerns not just on this side of the border, but for Mexico as well.
Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. Scientists estimate that methane contributes to about 25 percent of today’s warming. Cleaning up methane also reduces other pollutants: both ozone precursors that affect air quality and air toxics that erode human health.
The recent NASA paper linking the methane cloud to production, processing and distribution of oil and natural gas also notes that just a small portion of these sites, about 10%, were responsible for more than half the emissions. This is just the most recent example of a long list of scientific studies that have found that subset of sites or facilities disproportionately account for the majority of emissions. Scientists have called this subset of sites super-emitters. Read More
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After passing the State Assembly Appropriations committee on Wednesday, a little known bill – SB 1441 – is headed for the assembly floor, which is slated to deliver big benefits for consumers and the environment. Not only will the bill create a strong market driver for utilities to operate tighter infrastructure and save California consumers tens of millions of dollars per year, the simple yet innovative approach it takes can chart a course for curbing methane leaks across the industry.
But first, a little context.
As recent as a couple years ago, non-hazardous natural gas leaks and venting were a commonly accepted occurrence across gas utility infrastructure. As long as a leak or a venting wasn’t likely to ignite, utilities could let it go – with many small persistent leaks lasting for decades. And though it sounds hard to believe, gas utilities continuously collect money from consumers through their gas bills to cover the amount of gas utilities lose, even though they also collect money from those same ratepayers to upgrade pipes. This market design works only to protect utilities – giving them money to fix leaks while also covering them if they don’t. Read More
New technology is evolving electricity transmission from a centralized, one-way system to a more distributed, interactive one. This system necessitates new electricity rates, and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) unveiled this week at its annual summer meeting a draft manual that will help states across the U.S. design them.
The Distributed Energy Management Compensation Manual is basically a compendium of rate design options that regulators can consider, and it outlines each option’s pros and cons. NARUC President Travis Kavulla charged his staff with writing the manual – a monumental undertaking – and we commend the organization for this effort.
I was pleased to speak during the Town Hall event at which NARUC rolled out the draft manual, and my remarks focused on one critical need: good rate design process. Choosing the right electricity rate for a state is important, but so too is the process by which regulators arrive at that decision. Early in the document it recognizes, “A jurisdiction will need to identify its current status regarding DER [distributed energy resources], what role it expects DER to have in the future, understand the nature of DER adoption rates, and identify necessary policy developments to accommodate that future.” Now is the time to encourage NARUC to include in the manual a dedicated section that shows states how to build a process for ratemaking that will be sustainable, benefit consumers, and advance in tandem with electricity distribution technology. Read More
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management should do more to protect taxpayers from unnecessary waste of their natural gas resources. That’s the main takeaway from a new report from the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office. Its findings again underline the urgent need for BLM to finalize strong new standards to reduce methane waste.
Methane is both the primary component of natural gas and a very potent climate pollutant. In fact, pound for pound, methane is more than 80 times worse for our climate than carbon dioxide in the short term. This means that unnecessary methane waste and pollution like the GAO found in this new report is a double whammy – depriving taxpayers of revenue due to us for the development of our natural gas resources and dangerously accelerating climate change.
The GAO finds that BLM needs more consistent policies in place to better limit methane waste and pollution from the oil and gas production it oversees on hundreds of thousands of acres of federal and tribal lands. It’s a big problem. Read More
As a major producer and consumer of oil and gas, California can set the bar for reducing methane leaks. And today, the Golden State showed it’s up to the challenge, making a critical change in proposed rules aimed at cutting methane pollution from oil and gas wells, pipelines and equipment of the like – now putting California firmly on the path to adopt the nation’s strongest methane controls anywhere.
This matters because methane, the main ingredient in natural gas and a common byproduct of oil production, is a damaging greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame.
A big lesson-learned from the months-long, mega-gas leak at Aliso Canyon, and the similarly tragic eight month gas leak in Arvin, CA in 2014, is that oil and gas infrastructure can fail. While leaks the size of Aliso Canyon are rare, it’s an example of the risk we face daily as this infrastructure ages, and a sobering reminder of how important it is to have protections that ensure methane stays in the pipelines—and not in our air. Read More