Ron Wackowski: Strong rules needed for methane venting
July 9, 2018
I am an oil and gas industry engineering consultant, and I'm disappointed by the recent report by Colorado State University researchers that suggests that the amount of methane vented in natural gas operations may be significantly higher than previously thought.
This article in Science magazine was reported on by NPR — "Large Methane Leaks Threaten Perception of 'Clean' Natural Gas," June 23. The results of the report are not what disappoints me. Instead, I am disappointed by the performance of my industry and the response of industry lobbying groups.
First, the industry can produce natural gas without large amounts of venting by applying methods and technologies that are currently available. Many operators already do so.
Will it cost more to produce responsibly? Yes. Should it be a requirement? Absolutely. Will there be times when releases occur even in very well-run operations? Without a doubt.
However, there should be strong rules against methane venting. We don't need methane venting regulations targeted as "job killers" by our government. Poor operating practices that pollute the environment and ultimately damage the public's opinion of the industry are the real job killers.
The Trump Administration's, and Congressman Tipton's and Senator Gardner's support of, efforts to weaken regulations to reduce methane emissions is counter-productive to the environment and the industry in the long run.
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Finally, lacking the needed resources to adequately police and enforce the established rules hurts the general public. Colorado has strong rules against methane emissions and the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission should have the ability to monitor and enforce vigorously.
Second, the oil and gas industry needs to step up and accept responsibility and prove that it can do better. They should not be denying and avoiding any potential criticism, like they did for so long related to induced earthquakes in Oklahoma. They should be partnering with universities and governmental agencies to measure and report on an ongoing basis.
Instead, we get efforts by trade groups such as the Western Energy Alliance to preferentially tout only studies with outcomes they like. By doing so, these industry groups call into question the validity of contrary studies — "this study is right; therefore, that one must be wrong.”
Granted, there have been studies that show lower methane leakage rates. Those studies show that natural gas can be produced with low amounts of venting. However, this study in Science magazine also shows that improvements can and should be made in some operations.