California Tightens Regulations on Methane Emissions

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – More than a year after a Los Angeles-area gas well spewed methane unchecked for over 100 days, California regulators on Thursday approved new regulations aimed at updating the state’s oil and gas industry’s facilities and greenhouse gas emissions.

The laws, which come as Congress and President Donald Trump threaten to undo federal environmental regulations, require onshore and offshore oil and gas producers to install methane emissions-recapture technology, monitor for leaks at underground wells daily and report on their facilities every quarter.

The state hopes to slash greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas operations 45 percent from current levels by 2030. The rules were approved unanimously by the California Air Resources Board and take effect next year.

State regulators say the heightened requirements will help California comply with Gov. Jerry Brown’s ambitious climate goal of reducing short-lived climate pollutant levels by 40 percent by 2030.

Methane and other so-called short-lived climate pollutants are the second-most prevalent greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere next to carbon dioxide. Short-lived pollutants don’t exist in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, but do trap more heat and are classified by scientists as major contributors to global warming.

Methane emissions in California come largely from agriculture and landfills, not oil and gas production.

But it is the main component in natural gas, and nearly half of the natural gas burned in California is used for generating electricity. The state imports an estimated 90 percent of its natural gas supply, with a large majority delivered to power plants.

Oil and gas producers bemoaned the latest round of industry regulations, noting that California already had the nation’s strictest standards before Thursday’s vote.

“Our industry is not the top emitter of methane in the state, yet this rule will add to the nation’s toughest regulations that our operators must follow, such as cap-and-trade. Policymaking should not happen in a vacuum and the impact of these far-reaching policies should be considered as a whole rather than piecemeal,” Rock Zierman, chief executive officer of the California Independent Petroleum Association, said in a statement.

Environmentalists said the changes are welcome but that California must continue to clamp down on “dirty oil and gas operations.”

“Even under these rules, we’ll still see leaks and the risk of dangerous accidents like the Aliso Canyon methane blowout,” Hollin Kretzmann of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement. “To protect public safety and our climate from this dirty industry, we’ve got to move to cleaner energy sources.”

According to the state, oil and gas extraction was responsible for just 4 percent of methane emissions in 2013. But that number may increase in the state’s next review, once data from the catastrophic 2016 Aliso Canyon leak is accounted for.

Known as the largest accidental methane release in U.S. history, the Aliso Canyon methane leak caused the evacuation of thousands of residents from nearby Porter Ranch. Over 100,000 tons of the potent greenhouse gas spewed into the environment before the company plugged the leak nearly four months later. Regulators eventually fined the well’s owner SoCalGas $4 million for the disaster.

The Aliso Canyon incident highlighted the danger of gas leaks in California, as over five million residents live within a mile of one or more oil or gas wells.

A recent federal report also recommended that oil and gas operators develop enhanced safety procedures to prevent and detect future leaks, similar to the ones state regulators approved Thursday. Only California, Colorado, Wyoming and Ohio have laws regulating methane gas emission levels.

Established in 1967 under then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, the air resources board is regarded as one the state’s most powerful agencies and is tasked with enforcing the state’s ambitious and often groundbreaking climate policies. The governor appoints 12 members while the Legislature selects just two.

On Thursday, the air resources board also approved tougher rules on landfills, gases used in refrigerators and programs meant to spur Californians to replace their wood-burning stoves. It wants to eliminate food waste from landfills by 2025 and reduce emissions generated by cows on dairy farms.

Last year Brown inked a proposal that tasked the board with finding a way to clean up the Golden State’s estimated 5 million dairy and beef cows and 1,400 dairies. Scientists say belching cows and decomposing food in landfills release large amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere.

 

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