Senators demand review of methane emissions

Source: By Carlos Anchondo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, August 2, 2020

Four high-ranking senators are asking for a “comprehensive review” of methane emissions from U.S. oil and gas development, arguing the country doesn’t have a clear enough picture of those emissions.

Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) sent a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro asking the Government Accountability Office to conduct the review, expressing unease about a possible reliance on “outdated” methods to measure emissions.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas that has 25 times bigger impact than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, according to EPA.

“To better understand how methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry impacts human health and the environment, it is imperative to have a firm understanding on how much methane is actually released into the air, during both normal and abnormal operations,” the senators wrote.

“Therefore, we are requesting that GAO conduct a study and issue a comprehensive report on methane emissions.”

The four senators, all active around energy issues, said the novel coronavirus pandemic could actually lead to an uptick in methane emissions, with low natural gas prices potentially causing some producers to vent the gas instead of capturing and selling it.

“Moreover, natural gas producers may put off fixing leaks because the cost of doing so exceeds the value of captured gas,” the letter said.

The lawmakers outlined 10 things they want GAO to look into, including to what extent methane emissions may have gone up during the COVID-19 economic downturn and any regulatory suggestions to enhance EPA’s greenhouse gas inventory. GAO did not return a request for comment.

Multiple environmental groups, including the Wilderness Society and Environmental Defense Fund, issued statements calling for more comprehensive methane measurements, according to a press release announcing the senators’ letter.

“EPA has made progress improving their inventory methodologies to estimate emissions by incorporating some of these data, but it still significantly underestimates emissions,” Steven Hamburg, EDF’s chief scientist, said in a statement.

“Improvements to reporting requirements and emissions calculations will help EPA and [the Bureau of Land Management] better meet their missions of reducing dangerous climate and air pollution, protecting public health, minimizing waste, and getting a fair return for taxpayers,” he said.