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States Can Take the Lead in Reducing Methane Emissions from Natural Gas

Natural gas can offer climate and public health benefits, but its production too often leaks methane, a heat trapping gas that is at least 34 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Estimates show that natural gas production sites leak from 1 percent to 10 percent or more of their methane. Consider the fact that the United States has over 925,000 natural gas-producing wells, and that’s a lot of methane being released into the atmosphere!

While the federal government is taking steps to reduce these emissions, soon-to-be-proposed rules from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) don’t go far enough. They’ll cover only new and modified natural gas infrastructure, leaving old, leaky equipment free to emit unchecked amounts of methane.

That’s where states can play a role. A new WRI paper outlines the many opportunities that states have to lead in reducing the country’s methane emissions. In fact, it’s in their best interest to do so.

State Leadership Can Influence Federal Policies—And Other States

States aren’t just the laboratories of democracy, as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said. They are also laboratories of common-sense policy solutions to reduce methane emissions.

In 2012, EPA finalized rules that addressed pollutants that are emitted alongside methane, and that would indirectly reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas production. Those rules are similar in many ways to requirements that Wyoming and Colorado had in place since 2004. This proof of concept at the state level provided EPA with successful rules it could build upon.

Colorado in particular is a leader in this space, and is far ahead of the federal government in addressing methane and other air emissions from natural gas development. In February 2014, with support from some of the largest natural gas companies in the state, Colorado finalized new rules that will dramatically reduce air pollution from natural gas development, and became the first state in the country to target methane directly. The methane reductions are substantial – from a greenhouse gas perspective, it’s the equivalent of taking all of Colorado’s cars off the road for a full year. Colorado learned from the experiences of Wyoming and Pennsylvania, which both require regular leak surveys of natural gas infrastructure. And just two months after Colorado finalized its rules, Ohio followed suit with similar leak detection and repair requirements of its own.

States are now building on the experiences of others, showcasing best practices to other states and the federal government. Companies active within states with ambitious methane reduction measures will be better prepared to meet national standards, and will likely benefit from lower compliance costs and increased returns on investment in emissions-reduction training and equipment.

States Can Help Save Industry Money

Natural gas is 75-98% methane, so leaked methane is lost product. Voluntary measures to reduce methane leaks have already increased natural gas sales revenue by more than $264 million, according to EPA. Studies show that the natural gas industry could save more than $1 billion per year by capturing additional wasted gas.

By limiting the scope and ambition of proposed emissions standards, EPA is leaving valuable opportunities and cost savings on the table. States can help industry save money while reducing waste, improving air quality, and lowering emissions by crafting their own methane rules.

In addition, many if not most of the technological solutions available for addressing methane leakage are cost-effective, and energy companies recoup their investments in three years or fewer. By getting ahead of potential future federal rules addressing methane emissions, states can help companies accelerate the learning curve and reduce future compliance costs.

Reducing Methane is Crucial for Meeting U.S. Emissions Targets

As analysis from WRI has shown, curtailing methane emissions is critical if the United States is to meet its 2020 and 2025 emissions-reduction targets. Reducing overall emissions by 26-28 percent by 2025—and going further in the longer-term—will require action at all levels of government, from federal to state to local. Capturing methane isn’t just good for business and the environment; it is key to the U.S. reaching its stated emissions reduction pledge.

By employing best practices and investing in new technologies, states can more efficiently protect public health and substantially reduce heat-trapping emissions. There’s no time like the present, and states that are ready to get started can begin here.

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