Guest Op-Ed : An Unlikely Ally in Fight to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

By David A. Ridenour

Environmentalists have an unlikely new ally in the fight to reduce emissions: The oil and gas industry.

Over the past few years, several major firms have spent millions of dollars on high-tech equipment designed to limit carbon emissions. A new report from the Environmental Partnership, an association of top energy firms, shows these efforts are bearing fruit.

The report chronicles the partnership’s first year of existence. It launched in late 2017 with just 26 members — but has since grown to 65, including more than half of the top U.S. natural gas producers.

The group concentrates on reducing emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Without proper monitoring and maintenance, the drills, pipelines, and other equipment used in energy operations can leak methane into the atmosphere.

When the partnership first announced its methane campaign, some environmentalists dismissed it as a PR stunt. But its achievements have proven very real.

Consider the partnership’s efforts to identify and fix leaky rigs. Over the past year, the partnership conducted more than 150,000 leak surveys at 78,000 production sites. Investigators found a leak rate of just 0.16 percent, significantly less than official EPA estimates. And the majority of the leaks were repaired within 60 days. Fixing a leak could cut a production site’s emissions by up to 40 percent.

The partnership also monitored wells. During natural gas extraction, a liquid mixture often builds up in wells and has to be manually removed. Without proper care, the removal process can release methane. To prevent this, member companies monitored 132,000 cases of liquid unloading to ensure firms maintained best practices and minimized emissions.

The partnership also upgraded “pneumatic controllers,” the mechanical devices used to control gas temperature and pressure during extraction. Member companies fixed or replaced 30,000 “high bleed” controllers, which release relatively large amounts of methane. Thirty-eight companies stopped using them entirely. Replacing high-bleed controllers can trim emissions by 60 percent, according to the EPA.

This progress shouldn’t come as a surprise. It fits within the broader story of America’s natural gas renaissance.

The advent of sophisticated extraction techniques like fracking and horizontal drilling has made America the world’s top producer of natural gas. Yet even as production hits record heights, methane emissions have plummeted, thanks to companies’ investments in environmentally-friendly equipment and practices.

In the Appalachia basin stretching from Alabama to New York, production jumped nearly 400 percent, while methane emissions plummeted 70 percent between 2011 and 2017. In the Eagle Ford basin in Texas, production jumped 130 percent, while emissions fell 65 percent. And in the Permian basin, which runs through western Texas and southeastern New Mexico, production increased 100 percent while emissions fell 39 percent.

Energy firms have also helped slash emissions by enabling power plants to switch from dirty coal to cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas. Thanks to this transition, electricity-related emissions recently hit a 25-year low.

Green activists aren’t the only ones reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As the Environmental Partnership’s new report shows, oil and gas firms are doing their part.

David A. Ridenour is president of The National Center for Public Policy Research. This piece originally ran in Washington Examiner.

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