Energy. Environment. Economy.

EPA boosts rules for methane reporting by oil and gas producers

Workers at a frack site in Harford Township, Pa. Under new EPA rules, gas drillers will have to step up their measurements and reporting of methane leaks.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Workers at a frack site in Harford Township, Pa. Under new EPA rules, gas drillers will have to step up their measurements and reporting of methane leaks.

The Environmental Protection Agency has moved to require oil and gas operators to improve how they measure methane leaks. Climate scientists and environmentalists increasingly worry about the warming aspects of methane. Although carbon dioxide has been the focus in the fight against global warming, methane is actually more potent in the short run. And as drilling for oil and gas continues in places like Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, more methane escapes. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told a room full of Wharton students on Friday that fracking operations don’t have to exacerbate global warming.

“And it’s about using some tremendously creative new technologies that actually allow us remotely to look at all this work that is going on across the U.S.,” said McCarthy, “And figure out where those leaks are, where those releases are, and how best to change our operations to get at a significant source of carbon pollution.”

McCarthy spoke at the Wharton Energy Conference at the Union League in Center City Philadelphia, where she urged support for Obama’s climate change action plan. The new rules would allow EPA to gauge how much methane escapes from oil and gas drill sites.

“This is about best management practices, this is about proper construction of a well,” said McCarthy. “I read about that when I was 24. We’ve learned those lessons, we can do this.” 

But some say the EPA has not gone far enough. The Environmental Defense Fund says the EPA should take action to plug the leaks.

“These important reporting requirements are not a substitute for action to reduce emissions,” said EDF senior attorney Peter Zalzal in a release. “It is critical that EPA move ahead with commonsense clean air measures to reduce methane emissions from the nation’s largest industrial source and to protect the health of our communities.”
EDF says methane is more than 80 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide in the short-term, and effective carbon reductions can occur quickly with new methane rules.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy also urged the aspiring energy leaders to look to the money-making benefits of low-carbon fuel.

“Because we will gain a significant competitive advantage domestically and internationally if we figure out how to make the U.S. the leader in this effort,” she said.


  • JimBarth

    There are a number of serious problems with Gina McCarthy’s (the EPA’s) approach.
    First, as Peter Zalzal states, being able to track emissions is so much less the issue than controlling those emissions, and, so called “best practices” by the industry are really meaningless when not mandated by law, but rather, left to be voluntarily applied by the industry. Then, if there is no monitoring or enforcement by the governments, State or Federal, but rather, again, left up to the industry to monitor itself and self report, are we really to be satisfied with such ineffective action?

    • Jack Wolf

      You can expect any future laws to be written by industry lobbyists, just like all the other laws coming out of DC. We don’t need more laws, we need a ban.

  • JimBarth

    This quote of McCarthy speaks volumes: “This is about best management practices, this is about proper construction of a well,” said McCarthy. “I read about that when I was 24. We’ve learned those lessons, we can do this.”
    How old is Ms. McCarthy now, in her fifties or higher? What lessons have “we” learned, if she, and “we” are still waiting for the industry, and more importantly, our governments, to impose those proper regulations on the industry, and to enforce them so that emissions, and migration, are effectively prevented? When are our Federal, State, and Local governments going to take effective action to control the extraction industry’s pollution?

    • Jack Wolf

      All wells leak, some sooner than others. Cement and metals age. Every joint and weld represents a weak point.
      And, let’s not forget the venting during the drilling process. Even when burned off, it contains many pollutants.
      The entire process should be banned, especially in an abruptly changing climate. Each greenhouse gas molecule we now emit either increases the future misery index, or brings that misery to us sooner.

  • AlSever

    Wonder if any one Is looking at the thousands of old unplugged gas wells for methane releases? I have watched people light pretty impressive flames at old wells in Hebron Twp, Potter county. Lot of of Wells bubbling methane in small streams in Shippen Twp, Cameron County also.

    When I worked for Pa Dep it was very difficult to get a gas company to fix leaking natural gas lines if the leak was in a waterway. They did not consider such leaks to be dangerous and such leaks were a very low priority for repair.

    • JimBarth

      Thank you for bringing up the legacy of abandoned wells. As far as I remember, I believe there are well over 100,000 in Pa, upwards towards 180,000?
      Does someone else have the projected number?

      • AlSever

        I recall talking to a guy from Centre County about ten years ago who was trying to get money to place very small natural gas powered generations at old abandoned well sites. He claimed that he had found numerous old wells putting out enough gas every day to run a 25 kW generator at each location and that collectively he could generate a million kW per day. I wonder what happened with his idea.

        I saw one well in Hebron Twp shoot flames 15 feet high after my friend ” flicked his Bic” at the wellhead. Had a great time putting out the flame.

  • Jack Wolf

    Not only does the EPA have to change it’s accounting methods to accurately account for greenhouse gas emissions and leaks, it also has to update their measure of the global warming potential of methane. Currently they use the 100 year GWP of about 25. When emitted, the GWP is about 150, therefore the problem is vastly understated.
    And, let’s not forget that the final combustion product of methane is CO2, which is the last thing we need. Natural gas use and expansion when we need immediate elimination to assure the continuation of civilization is like drinking milkshakes while on a diet.

  • debra haddix

    Epa will over look big gas until they can figure out a way to blame the coal industry.

  • pghsheep

    Uncontrolled natural exhaust of methane and deliberate release of methane are two very different animals…

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