Methane emissions a worry? Absolutely, and that’s why the natural gas industry is responding

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ICYMI: Energy Fairness Director Paul Griffin published an op-ed for the Houston Chronicle discussing industry-led efforts to cut methane emissions. The original piece can be viewed here.

The issue of methane as a driver of climate change has recently come into focus. Methane is widely known as a significant greenhouse gas, eighty-four times more potent than carbon dioxide during its first two decades of release because of the way it absorbs heat. This means limiting methane emissions is just as important as — maybe even more important than — controlling carbon dioxide emissions if we hope to stem climate change.

Despite allegations that U.S. natural gas companies are the only culprit when it comes to methane emissions, objective data and evidence show that’s not quite true. That’s because limiting methane emissions doesn’t just help combat climate change; it also makes business sense for gas companies since keeping product in the pipeline, not in the air, is best for the bottom line. Being a part of the climate-change solution and doing good business are two reasons the U.S. natural gas industry has remained laser-focused on reducing methane emissions.

Many are aware that the U.S. gas sector is leading the way on reducing carbon emissions, with an American gas boom helping the U.S. shed around 500 million tons of carbon dioxide since 2010. Much of this progress on reducing carbon dioxide emissions has come from switching coal-fired power production to natural gas, a fuel that produces half the carbon emissions when generating electricity and a third less emissions when providing heat, according to the International Energy Agency. The U.S. Energy Information Administration also found that cleaner performance — transitioning from coal to natural gas — helped reduce carbon emissions by 28 percent between 2005 and 2017 for power generation.

On the other hand, progress on cutting methane emissions hasn’t received nearly as much attention from policymakers or the media, but it should. The U.S. natural gas and oil sector has faced climate change head on by investing $108 billion in emissions-reducing technology from 2000 to 2016, an effort that is producing impressive results when it comes to methane emissions. Today, only 3 percent of methane emissions can be attributed to natural gas and petroleum systems, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The same data shows that while methane emissions from natural gas systems dropped 14 percent from 1990 to 2017, production actually increased more than 50 percent.

A recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reinforces the theme that natural gas producers are part of the climate-change solution. NOAA data show that there has been no significant increase of total U.S. methane emissions and only a modest increase from oil and gas activity as natural gas production and use has skyrocketed in the past 15 years. NOAA’s findings are significant, as they are based on highly accurate measurements of methane collected over 10 years at 20 long-term sampling sites nationwide.

Such progress on methane didn’t happen by accident, but as the product of broad cooperation across the energy sector. I saw this type of cooperation firsthand in my work for a major western power provider serving utility customers in Colorado and other states.

For example, 65 of the nation’s natural gas and oil producers in The Environmental Partnership, representing more than 80 percent of the nation’s top natural gas producers, are now working with EPA regulators to implement forward-looking rules on methane. Working closely with regulators, they are focused on implementing leak detection and repair, an effort that has revealed a leak rate 10 times lower than regulators first estimated.

Methane is a serious issue when it comes to climate. That’s why energy producers are taking it seriously. With America now leading the world in the production and consumption of natural gas, it is more critical than ever to limit methane emissions. Fortunately, the natural gas industry is rising to meet the challenge, because it’s the right thing to do and makes good business sense. Recent evidence that shows progress on limiting methane emissions is encouraging, but there is more work to be done.