By BILL GODSEY
With the infrastructure bill finally passed in Congress and headed to the president’s desk in the coming days to sign, all eyes remain on the ongoing debate around the reconciliation bill. As part of the legislation, a series of measures aimed at reining in air emissions and advancing the President’s climate goals are still part of the newly determined $1.7 trillion spending package. That includes a fee on methane emissions, a gas that is reported to be about 25 times more impactful to climate change than carbon dioxide. As a geologist who has worked in the energy sector and for entities that regulate this sector, such as the Texas Railroad Commission, I know the specifics of methane very well.
The problem, in my view? Not only are some relying on faulty measurements to target methane, they’re also failing to acknowledge that the oil and gas sector is already addressing its methane issues without government intrusion or punitive treatment.
To be clear, methane emissions are a problem that needs to be curbed, especially as we further rely on natural gas in sectors like power generation. The clean burning properties of natural gas over resources like coal have contributed to increased use of the fuel for electricity generation, or about 40% of U.S. generation in 2020. That is because by partnering natural gas with renewable resources, we can reach designated climate goals faster without sacrificing reliability and affordability.
Recognizing this future, oil and gas producers joined together in an unprecedented effort called The Environmental Partnership to find solutions. In fact, oil and gas companies have been working feverishly on curbing methane emissions in every major oil and natural gas basin across the country — all without the help of Congress or the onus of a new government fee.
The results have been noteworthy. By implementing new measures to avoid gas flaring when possible and to minimize the emission of flaring when absolutely necessary, oil and gas producers have made effective strides. In addition, those midstream companies that process and transport oil and natural gas also began implementing their own best practices that help reduce methane emissions. Overall, this resulted in an astonishing 50 percent reduction in flare volumes and intensity from 2019 to 2020, despite production volumes remaining consistent.
By working with Colorado State University’s Methane Emissions Test and Evaluation Center and conducting aerial surveys of major production regions, such as the Permian and Denver-Julesberg basins, nearly a hundred different companies are working to reduce methane emissions nationally. Together, they’ve performed more than 235 million component inspections, replaced or removed from service nearly 20,000 gas driven controllers and conducted 430,000 leak detection surveys on 86,000 sites.
These efforts will make a real difference in the fight against methane emissions. In fact, this work has already prevented 17 billion cubic feet of gas from being flared, meaning 9.4 million metric tons of potential emissions never reached the atmosphere. More time will mean even more results. That’s just one reason many producers have adamantly opposed a new methane fee, with more than 130 producers, manufacturers, industry associations and labor unions signing a letter in opposition. A new analysis by Rystad Energy found the fee could cost the industry $1.3 billion in 2025 and could have a “profound economic impact,” especially on smaller onshore producers. Plain and simple, this methane fee is essentially a natural gas tax. Consumers will be forced to endure higher energy prices and experience new levels of inflation.
Despite clear and compelling facts, some are misusing technology to tell a different — and ultimately inaccurate — story about methane. For example, earlier this year Geofinancial Analytics, a satellite data provider, claimed that it can link methane emissions to specific companies and that the methane picture is worse than is being reported.
As someone who has studied methane emissions professionally, I can say with certainty that these types of geographic tracking practices are fraught with problems as a host of factors could manipulate the measurements.
Overall, specific claims about methane sources is irresponsible and fails the most basic tenets of sound science. I am not alone in this opinion, as Dr. Daniel Jacob of Harvard University has also stated, you cannot link this data to individual operators.
As lawmakers deliberate the current reconciliation bill, it is important that they understand the massive success of current programs being implemented without government intervention. We need a balanced approach to methane that will not cut the knees out from under an industry crucial to our power generation future and that finds a way to progress environmental goals. But a methane fee, for example, represents a counterproductive measure that fails to account for either economic realities or the effective work already being done by the oil and gas sector to fight methane emissions.
Bill Godsey is owner and president of Geo Logic Environmental Services and a former geologist for the Texas Railroad Commission.