By Tim O’Connor, Environmental Defense Fund
Methane from oil and gas operations is a serious climate risk, but also a ripe opportunity to make a huge dent in overall greenhouse emissions. This past week, one state took a big, and long-awaited, step to address the challenge.
While we wait for the Environmental Protection Agency to release draft federal methane rules this summer, the California Air Resources Board has just released a draft of the most comprehensive and forward thinking regulations to cut methane pollution from oil and gas yet.
While the April 22 proposal still needs work—such as in the area of how often equipment needs to be inspected and how best to reduce venting associated with well unloading and other activities—it’s a big and fundamental step in the right direction. It has the potential to deliver what the rest of the country needs—comprehensive equipment standards on new and existing sources for both oil and gas operations, and enhanced leak detection and repair requirements across the methane value chain.
But the benefits will be felt closest to home first.
California is the third largest oil-producing state. According to a statewide survey a few years ago, there are over 50,000 active oil wells, 1,300 gas extraction wells, and 370 gas storage wells with over 7.7 million pieces of equipment peppered across the California landscape—many of which may be leaking methane right now. Through the seven new strategies being proposed, CARB modeling predicts over 500,000 tons of greenhouse gas pollution reductions and major decreases in hazardous air pollution, mostly in the state’s most overburdened air basins.
Of course, the release of a draft regulation is just the start of a regulatory process that will likely take six months to a year to complete, and likely won’t take effect until 2017. But, seeing as how the U.S. oil and gas industry is responsible for 14 percent of U.S. VOC emissions (a principal smog-forming gas) and 57,000 metric tons of hazardous air pollutants, if California’s action stimulates action elsewhere, it can deliver outsized results much, much sooner and on a larger scale.
As we've written elsewhere, the consulting firm ICF found that major methane reductions from oil and gas operations can be achieved for less than one penny per 1,000 cubic feet of produced natural gas. Reducing methane emissions not only has a climate benefit, it benefits industry and consumers by eliminating waste of a natural resource and by keeping a valuable commodity in the pipeline.
In terms of next steps, California should continue its reputation as an environmental champion and finalize this rule with certain necessary improvements—proceeding with a rigorous, forward thinking regulation that leads the way in the oil and gas sector. With immediate action on methane emissions, the state can help address a critical missing piece in the climate change mitigation strategy across the U.S. and in the Golden State.
This post originally appeared on the Environmental Defense Fund’s California Dream 2.0 blog.
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