DENVER – With the Environmental Protection Agency expected to release a rule this month on methane regulations, proponents are gearing up for a messaging war.
Federal regulators aim at reducing oil-and-gas methane emissions by as much as 45 percent by 2025. The idea is that companies can use new technology to better capture methane emissions from operations.
The EPA estimates that 7 million tons of methane are emitted every year, though environmentalists suggests that it could be much higher.
The issue is relevant in Southwest Colorado, where researchers identified a significant methane “hot spot” in the Four Corners. A team of scientists is currently investigating the cause of the concentration, which could stem from a combination of natural-gas exploration and natural occurrences.
The new rule comes as the EPA is also requiring a controversial reduction in carbon pollution. Carbon-dioxide emissions must be reduced by 28 percent in Colorado and 32 percent nationally by 2030.
The mandate also comes as the EPA is under fire for causing a spill of mining wastewater into the Animas River on Aug. 5. The agency is also in the hot seat for pushing tough standards for mines, including a new environmental review of the Colowyo Mine near Craig.
With all of the political winds swirling, proponents of the new methane rule are trying to get ahead of it with positive messaging. They point out that methane strongly absorbs infrared radiation, much more so than carbon dioxide, which adds to climate change.
Methane has a lifetime in the atmosphere of about nine years. When methane is emitted, it reacts chemically in the atmosphere and is turned into carbon dioxide. What’s significant is that a pound of emitted methane is roughly equivalent to emitting many more pounds of carbon dioxide. Over 100 years, 1 pound of methane is equivalent to about 30 pounds of carbon dioxide.
“The need for regulation of both new and existing sources of methane emissions from the oil-and-gas industry is absolutely critical,” said Mark Brownstein, vice president of the Climate and Energy Program run by the Environmental Defense Fund.
But Christi Zeller, executive director of the La Plata County Energy Council, has repeatedly pointed out that energy producers in the area have already begun using new technologies for detecting and capturing methane. She said the industry has been voluntarily using new technology because it is a loss financially to release methane.
Colorado, in 2014, became the first state to regulate detection and reduction of methane emissions. Some big producers such as Noble Energy, Encana and Anadarko supported the mandate.
The rule requires infrared cameras to detect leaks in production equipment, instrument-based monthly inspections on large sources of emissions, expedited timelines for repairing leaks and detection and repair for hydrocarbons, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and methane.
Proponents of the federal rule, however, say there needs to be requirements for companies all across the nation.
“The challenge is very large,” Brownstein said. “But the opportunity to make a significant difference in the rate of global warming by reducing emissions is equally large.”