Senate GOP Letter on EPA Methane Rule Misstates the Facts

A group of Republican Senators sent a letter to the White House yesterday questioning the administration’s plans to begin regulating methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. While EDF welcomes their engagement, the Senators’ characterization of the problem, their representation of emissions data, and their reference to research funded by EDF are flatly incorrect.

The facts are these: Methane is a potent greenhouse gas—packing 84 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. That means it’s a serious challenge, but also a huge opportunity to put the brakes on climate change quickly and cost-effectively. EPA’s latest inventory released in April estimates that in 2013, the oil and gas industry released more than 7.3 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere from their operations—a three percent increase over 2012—making it the largest industrial source of methane pollution. That’s enough to meet the needs of 5 million households, and packs the same short-term climate punch as the CO2 emissions from more than 160 coal-fired power plants.

Curbing these avoidable emissions from the oil and gas industry is a critical element of any effective climate strategy. Industrial methane pollution represents a needless waste of a valuable energy resource. Studies show we are wasting $1.8 billion in natural gas every year through methane leaks throughout the oil and gas system. At the same time, there are proven and affordable solutions to cut this dangerous and wasteful pollution.

Our scientific understanding of methane pollution—including where methane leaks occur and at what volume—is continuing to improve. The groundbreaking series of EDF-coordinated scientific studies is greatly expanding our understanding of the methane pollution problem. In fact, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and his colleagues cite EDF’s research in their letter to President Obama. Unfortunately, their letter makes a critical error with regard to one of those studies—the University of Texas research actually demonstrated that methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector are statistically unchanged over time. No decreases in methane pollution have been observed or reported.

Curbing methane pollution not only eliminates needless energy waste and slows the effects of a climate threat impacting our world now, but it improves air quality in drilling communities. When methane leaks, it does so in the company of other air pollutants, including carcinogens and the pre-cursors of smog, which exacerbates breathing problems for asthmatics and others.

The state of Colorado has shown what is possible when the oil and gas industry works with government regulators and public interest organizations. The state has had rules in place to fight methane pollution for over a year, and the state’s energy industry has thrived. The same approach should be applied nationwide, fueling growth in an emerging methane mitigation industry that stands ready to expand well-paying American jobs.

Voluntary programs, such as those elevated by Senator Inhofe, play a role but are no silver bullet—reports show not enough companies engage to make a real difference to significantly reduce methane pollution. One of the biggest indicators? The fact that the very program EPA is proposing to advance these voluntary measures—Natural Gas STAR—has been around since 1993, but of the more than 6,000 producers in operation, fewer than 30 are participants.

The oil and gas industry repeatedly argues that it can be trusted to voluntarily take the steps needed to reduce methane emissions, and that regulation is not needed, but Natural Gas Star’s sub 1 percent participation rate proves otherwise. With thousands of producers around the country, only consistent national rules can ensure that companies have a level playing field and people have the vital protections they deserve.


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