Friday, December 8, 2017

Oil industry says it will do methane reductions on its own

An oil well flares off excess methane in the desert east of Farmington, New Mexico. (Courtesy of Michael Eisenfeld)
An oil well flares off excess methane in the desert east of Farmington, New Mexico. (Michael Eisenfeld)

Dino Grandozi reports for The Washington Post:

Amid an effort by the Trump administration to ease rules on the oil and gas sector, 26 companies said they will take voluntary steps to ratchet down emissions on a potent greenhouse gas the Obama administration tried to regulate.

The week, the American Petroleum Institute, the largest oil and gas lobbying group in Washington, announced the launch of a program aimed at reducing emissions of methane from oil and natural gas production.

"The program overall is set up to continuously improve the environmental performance for onshore operators throughout the country through the process of learning, collaborating and taking action," said Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations for API. "This is a very robust program."
However, some environmental groups called the initiative, titled The Environmental Partnership, too little, too late given the industry’s embrace of Trump’s deregulatory agenda.

“It’s somewhat amazing that the industry hasn’t already put forward its own standard,” said Chase Huntley, director of energy and climate at The Wilderness Society.

Oil and gas firms participating in the program, which includes heavyweights like Chevron, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil onshore subsidiary XTO Energy, have agreed to cut pollution by monitoring and repairing leaks and replacing or retrofitting “high-bleed” pneumatic controllers, identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a top spot for the release of methane."It's a very targeted, surgical approach," Milito said.

Methane is between 28 and 36 times more effective than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere over a 100-year time period, according to the EPA. The measures are also meant to curb the release of volatile organic compounds, which can act as a precursor to ground-level ozone, a component of smog linked to heart and lung problems.

The voluntary program, in which 23 of the top 40 U.S. natural gas producers by volume are participating, focuses on the process of producing natural gas, not the final product — that is, not on the amount of methane actually released into the atmosphere. Under the program, API will publicly report on its progress, with the first report coming in 2019.

Energy firms have a financial incentive to work together, as they are under this program, to capture as much methane as possible. Because methane is the main component of natural gas and can be burned for fuel, every molecule of methane emitted is lost energy — and lost revenue.

The Obama administration, through rules issued by the EPA and the Interior Department, attempted to rein in methane emissions. But Trump has put both agencies’ policies under review, a move API and other industry players welcomed.

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