Implement proposed methane rule

Citizens' Voice of Wilkes-Barre

By The Editorial Board

December 23, 2019

The ongoing growth of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania and nationally has helped to reduce carbon emissions by more than 10% since 2007, even though carbon output spiked by about 3.4% in 2018, according to the Rhodium Group, a private sector research firm that used data from the Energy Information Administration and several other sources.

Carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas but it is less potent than methane — the natural gas that is being used to supplant coal for power production.

It takes far less methane than carbon dioxide escaping into the atmosphere to worsen atmospheric warming. But as the gas industry grows it is clear that state and federal regulators do not have a good handle on just how much methane leaks during gas extraction, processing and transportation.

Last Monday, The New York Times reported that a new satellite, the first designed to detect from space methane emissions on the ground, had recorded a record methane release from a well blowout in eastern Ohio that was more than twice as large as the driller’s estimate. Dutch and American scientists analyzed data from the February 2018 blowout and said it had released more than 120 metric tons of methane an hour for the 20 days that it took to plug the well.

That blowout was atypical. But if the driller and regulators did not know how much methane such a major event produced, that raises the question of how much methane escapes undetected during routine operations.

To help answer it, the Wolf administration has proposed a rule to tighten the state’s methane regulation. It would end an exemption for methane monitoring and repairs on low-producing wells, and would require regular inspections of production facilities regardless of the results of previous inspections.

It makes little sense to press natural gas as a partial answer to carbon pollution if regulators cannot restrict methane, which is more damaging to the atmosphere. Several major producers have agreed to the proposed rule. The administration should implement it quickly.

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