PA Environmental Digest
By John Walliser - Op-ed
January 20, 2016
Tuesday, Governor Wolf announced that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will be advancing a series of measures to control methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.
Methane is very much at the forefront of national awareness given the Aliso Canyon disaster that continues to unfold in California, where an estimated 100,000 pounds of methane are being sent into the air each hour at a San Fernando Valley natural gas storage facility.
While the Aliso Canyon incident is particularly egregious, it still stands as an example of a problem that’s happening every day in Pennsylvania, as the oil and gas sector is the largest industrial source of methane pollution. Being the second largest producer of natural gas in the nation, Pennsylvania is thus one of the leading producers of oil and gas methane emissions.
Methane is released into the atmosphere when natural gas is leaked, vented, or flared. It is a potent climate pollutant responsible for about a quarter of today’s anthropogenic global warming. Extensive studies commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund and others demonstrate that methane is leaking at every stage of the oil and gas supply chain.
It is difficult to assess how severe and widespread the problem of methane emissions is in Pennsylvania. While certain segments of industry currently report their known emissions, those numbers are likely a significant underestimate of the overall picture.
First, only larger operations are required to report this information. Second, these estimates are often based on formulas that don’t take into account major leaks or equipment failures. The more the issue is studied, the more evidence emerges that methane emissions are far greater than what is currently reported or acknowledged.
Adding to the problem is the fact that Pennsylvania has an untold number of abandoned or orphaned wells – potentially tens of thousands – that are leaking methane unchecked into the atmosphere.
Pennsylvania has a “known knowns” and a “known unknowns” problem with methane emissions, which makes the announcement by Governor Wolf that DEP will address both existing and new sources of emissions so critically important.
Given that we are one of the largest contributors, it makes sense that Pennsylvania take the lead in advancing rules that dramatically reduce those emissions.
PEC is strongly supportive of this effort, and we look forward to working with the DEP and other partners in advancing policies that reduce Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas footprint.
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