World leaders met in Scotland this past week – at the COP26 climate summit – to seek international agreements to decrease and mitigate the menacing effects of climate change.
One of the most important topics centered around the potent greenhouse gas emissions of methane, a gas that is released during the drilling of oil wells and can be leaked from oil and gas equipment.
Methane emissions are the second-largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide, it is commonly referred to as a “potent” greenhouse gas because of its ability to warm the earth. According to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, methane traps about 30 to 90 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide but lasts in the atmosphere for a few decades rather than a few centuries.
As reported by The Texas Tribune, on Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed tighter controls on the oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane, after the U.S and the European Union announced a pledge to dramatically cut methane gas emissions.
“It is now abundantly clear that America is back and leading by example in confronting the climate crisis with bold ambition,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.
The rule, if approved, could require companies to use specialized equipment to identify the colorless gas on a quarterly basis and repair leaks, as well as impose tighter restrictions on controlling emissions from both new and old wells. EPA estimates the rule could reduce methane emissions by 41 million tons by 2035.
Since Texas produces the largest share of oil – 40% of the nation’s crude – it will play a fundamental role in the nation’s efforts to reduce methane emissions. But state leaders have protested calls to shift the energy industry — a key pillar of the state’s economy — away from its reliance on producing greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels.
When being told that Texas needs to reduce its reliance on oil, and consider a transition to renewable energy sources, Gov. Greg Abbott responded with a tweet that said “Pound Sand” and pointed to high gasoline prices to argue that “Texas oil and gas is needed right now”.
The colorless gas can leak from oil and gas equipment during normal operations, but also companies burn off excess gas that is unearthed along with oil in a process called flaring. Routine flaring without permission from regulators is barred by state law, with some exceptions. According to agency data, the Texas Railroad commission authorized almost 7,000 flaring exceptions in 2019 and 4,500 in 2020. Texas flares the most gas of any state.
The Texas Railroad Commission has long been criticized for not taking a stronger stance on methane emissions, but David Cooney Jr., an attorney in the Railroad Commission’s office of general counsel, said the agency is “poised and ready to cooperate” with the federal rules.
On the other hand, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, said that the Biden administration’s climate policies were a “relentless attack” on energy workers and argued that political leaders should instead support the oil and gas industry to spur technology to reduce emissions.
The EPA rule, if implemented, would be a sharp switch for Texas oil producers that have enjoyed less strict ruling than neighboring states like New Mexico and Colorado, which have dramatically reduced flaring, venting, and leaks through regulation, according to data compiled by S&P Global Platts Analytics.