When Trump’s agencies undermine small businesses supporting responsible energy

By: Ben Ratner

Every physician would tell you that regular check-ups are important for your health, to catch problems before they become big issues, and to let you know that everything is in working order. Regular check-ups are also important for the oil and natural gas industry, whose leading actors benefit from periodic site inspections for natural gas leaks, which let product go to waste and pollute the air our families breathe.

Unfortunately, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt slammed the brakes on these regular check-ups for methane emissions (the main component of natural gas), when EPA announced its intention to freeze for two years safeguards that include a national standard for twice annual leak detection inspections at new well pads. And mere hours later, the Bureau of Land Management suspended waste prevention standards on federal and tribal lands. While these actions might initially be popular among some in the oil & gas community in Texas, the long-term repercussions will be severe.

With commodity prices recovering and a wave of development expected in the Permian Basin, the leak detection requirements were to take effect in time to support responsible development of new resources.

The administration attempts to justify abrupt halting of these basic standards as a necessary step to support the competitiveness of industry. However, the facts tell a very different story: compliance with leak detection requirements is cost effective, and an emerging industry of American small businesses stands at the ready to boost conservation, cut waste, and help industry comply.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) works to bring the right people to the table to forge innovative solutions that help people and nature prosper—we’ve proven that market-oriented solutions to environmental challenges not only drive bottom-line gains, but also spur innovation and job creation. Hearing trade association claims that methane standards are too onerous for industry—that small operators cannot afford to purchase pollution control equipment, for example—we wanted to understand what is actually happening on the ground. That is why we recently teamed with Datu Research to study the market solutions for companies needing to comply with the kind of leak detection requirements recently stymied on multiple fronts by the Trump administration.

Datu found that oil and gas companies do not need to purchase their own leak detection equipment. Instead, they can rely on one of 60 companies that provide methane leak detection and repair as a service in 45 states. Signing a contract with these firms eases the compliance burden for operators, because they can rely on third parties to provide trained staff and state of the art equipment like infrared cameras that bring invisible leaks into focus so they can be fixed.

Most third party leak detection firms are located within 100 miles of client sites, allowing for efficient service, and in many cases extra efficiency from “bundling” of multiple sites in a day to manage costs further.

And Texas boasts a Texas-sized leak detection industry, home to nearly two dozen leak detection and repair firms. For example, Dexter ATC, based in Beaumont, TX, serves 27 sites in Texas alone.

Not only do leak detection and repair service firms create cost effective solutions for industry clients, they create offshore-proof jobs working with technology. Dexter’s Nick James, now the Operations Director, explains that leak detection and repair provides young people who lack a college degree the opportunity to acquire skills and earn good entry-level wages. Nick’s story of upward mobility—he started as a field technician detecting leaks—is not unique, as the industry supports six job types, with salaries from $27,000 to the six figures.

Companies like Dexter are ready to help the oil and gas industry operate more cleanly and efficiently, and these small businesses stand to grow. Datu found that requiring methane controls—as the EPA and BLM standards do–creates jobs cutting methane emissions. In fact, companies have already experienced 5-30% business growth in states with methane regulations.

Rolling back methane safeguards isn’t just a step backwards for clean air, resource conservation, and an industry looking to demonstrate responsible operations as demand for clean energy grows—these rollbacks pull the rug out from an emerging industry that puts Americans to work. That’s not what the doctor ordered.

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    Confluence of SJR, Old, and Middle rivers

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