Methane emissions underscore the need for stricter regulations

Methane emissions underscore the need for stricter regulations
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In mere weeks, the Environmental Protection Agency is set to unveil a supplemental draft rule aimed at cracking down on the oil and gas industry’s rampant methane emissions. This rule, which sidesteps the Supreme Court’s West Virginia v. EPA ruling, provides a necessary advancement to 2016 rules that were rolled out similarly regulating methane emissions as part of the Obama administration’s ambitious climate goals. New rules could not come at a better time, given recent findings of rampant methane emissions in the oil-rich Permian Basin, where some fossil fuel companies are relentlessly polluting the region with nonstop methane emissions.

Taking data from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab project known as Carbon Mapper, the Associated Press found dozens of so-called “super emitters” located in the area, of which just 10 companies owned 164 sites responsible for major methane emissions. The Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute Director, Kassie Siegel, provided an eye-opening analogy to the methane issue: “If carbon dioxide is the fossil-fuel broiler of our heating planet, methane is a blowtorch,” Siegel told the Associated Press. It’s long been understood that methane is more than 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Yet polluters freely emit methane with little to no consequence because, at this juncture, it is ultimately a company’s responsibility to account for its own bad actions. This has been a massive issue throughout the Gulf South and beyond. In Colorado, local air quality monitoring found that company reports of reduced methane emissions were an outright lie. Officials in towns and counties near Boulder were alarmed that claims of methane emissions being reduced by half weren’t even close to what on-the-ground air quality monitors had found. Colorado is considered a leader in methane emission regulation, yet there is still much work to be done to ensure that fossil fuel companies aren’t continuing to do their worst.

The Associated Press cites years of inaction and the difficulty of tracking methane emissions that are intermittent as major culprits, along with the oil and gas industry’s own practices of simply flaring and venting its methane because companies are overwhelmed by their own output. Regional oversight has all but signaled its support of such actions. An environmental consultant told the outlet that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality rarely, if ever, inspects oil and gas sites. And the primary agency overseeing onshore oil and gas projects in the state—the Texas Railroad Commission—itself benefits from a lack of oversight, allowing oil-loving commissioners to continue sitting on their hands in favor of constant fossil fuel development and production. If states like Colorado can’t even seem to get things right, it feels like Texas doesn’t even stand a chance to do right by its citizens.

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