Environmentalists to Map Methane Emissions in Largest US Oilfield

This October 2018 photo shows an oil rig and pump jack in Midland, Texas. (Jacob Ford/Odessa American via AP, File)

MARFA, Texas (CN) – A planned year-long study of methane emissions in the booming West Texas oil patch aims to paint a clearer picture of just how much of the climate change-causing pollutant is escaping from oil and gas sites.

The advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund announced the initiative Wednesday, describing it as an effort to map and measure emissions through stationary and mobile monitors scattered across the Permian Basin.

“One of the goals of the campaign is not only to show the public the scope of the problem, but also to provide a tool that perhaps the industry can use to mitigate their emissions on a near real-time basis,” Colin Leyden, an advocate with the EDF, said in an interview.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that has a habit of leaking from wells, pipelines and other oil and gas facilities.

While energy-related methane emissions nationwide have fallen in recent years even as oil and gas production has skyrocketed, they still make up 43% of the nation’s overall methane footprint, according to the latest numbers from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EDF has disputed the government’s numbers, saying its own research involving academics from across the country revealed an amount of oil and gas methane emissions 60% higher than what the EPA has documented.

The group plans to begin gathering methane data in November and then to start releasing the results in early 2020, with the hope that policymakers will take note.

“A fuller, more robust picture of methane emissions could also drive more effective regulations,” the EDF said in statement.

Whether the oil and gas industry will embrace the project, and its ultimate goal of encouraging stricter methane rules, remains to be seen.

Some oil and gas companies, notably major players like BP, Shell and ExxonMobil, have voluntarily committed to reducing methane emissions while also calling for the Trump administration to reverse its current course and maintain federal regulations on oilfield methane. But other industry forces have supported the administration’s plan to loosen methane regulations.

Leyden said his group has had preliminary conversations with some energy companies about being involved in the methane mapping effort, but none have formally signed on yet.

“I don’t know how the whole of industry will react to this. I suspect some might be upset,” he said. “We haven’t had anyone yell at us yet.”

“I think the industry will typically welcome new, credible sets of data,” said Steve Everley, a spokesperson for the pro-industry group Texans for Natural Gas. “But we have to acknowledge what the current, robust data tell us, which is that we’ve been increasing production while also reducing emissions intensity of those operations. If new data sets can help continue that progress, then that’s good news.”

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