DeGette introduces bill to limit methane emissions from oil and gas sites

May 14, 2019
Press Release
Legislation would require producers to capture the gas, instead of releasing it as a harmful pollutant

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) introduced legislation today to curb the large amounts of methane pollution and waste that are being released into the atmosphere each year by oil and gas producers across the country.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that’s up to 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide and when it’s released into the atmosphere it becomes one of the leading contributors to global warming. Yet, because methane is also the main component of natural gas it is one of the nation’s most valuable natural resources, and when captured can be used to generate electricity and provide heat for millions of homes across the country.

Nearly one-third of all methane released in the U.S. comes from oil and gas operations.

To protect this valuable resource and prevent it from being wasted or released into the atmosphere where it further exacerbates the ongoing climate crisis, DeGette’s legislation would require all oil and gas producers in the U.S. to take steps to capture any methane gas that reaches the surface at their well sites, instead of burning it off or simply letting it leak into the atmosphere.

“If we’re going to be serious about fixing the climate crisis, we have to be serious about curbing the release of methane into the atmosphere,” DeGette said. “We should be capturing and using this extremely valuable resource, not allowing the worst actors in the oil and gas industry to release it into the atmosphere where it’s going to harm future generations.”

Specifically, the bill – known as the Methane Waste Prevention Act – would require oil and gas producers to capture 85% of all gas produced on public lands within three years of enactment, and 99% of all gas produced on such lands within five years of enactment. The legislation would also ban the venting of any natural gas on public lands, and prohibit methane flaring at any new wells established two years after the bill is passed.

In essence, the legislation would reinstate, enhance and protect two 2016 rules that the Obama administration had put in place – the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane Waste Prevention Rule, which limited the amount of methane that oil and gas producers operating on tribal or public lands could release, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s New Source Performance Standards for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry, which set similar limits that apply to any new or modified oil and wells in the U.S.

Despite the clear economic and environmental benefits of capturing methane gas instead of releasing it, the Trump administration in 2017 announced its plan to roll back both Obama-era rules – and, once again allow oil and gas companies across the country to release the harmful pollutant into the atmosphere. Per Trump’s decree, the Bureau of Land Management completed its rollback of the rule in 2018, while the Environmental Protection Agency is still working to finalize the rollback of its version.

If approved, DeGette’s legislation would not only reinstate, but also enhance, the Bureau of Land Management’s 2016 rule. It would also prevent the EPA from rolling back its version.

While methane gas can be captured and sold to U.S. consumers, too often oil and gas producers are choosing to burn it off, or are allowing it to vent or leak, when it reaches the surface because it is not as profitable as the oil they are trying to pull out of the ground.

Between 2009 and 2015, before the Obama-era rules were put into effect, oil and gas producers on public and tribal lands released about 462 billion cubic feet of methane into the atmosphere, which – if captured – would have been enough to supply about 6.2 million households for a year.

The EPA estimated that, once in effect, the rule would avoid the equivalent of 7.7 to 9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2025. Similarly, the BLM estimated that its rule would keep the equivalent of 4.4 to 4.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Reducing methane emissions is widely seen by climate experts as an essential part of addressing the ongoing climate crisis that currently affects all Americans – from stronger storms and longer droughts to increased insurance premiums, food prices and allergy seasons.

Methane released from the oil and gas industry is often accompanied by other pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs, that can contribute to smog, and other air toxics, such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, that have been linked to several serious public health problems, including reduced lung function, asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular causes, and even cancer.

Several states, including Colorado, North Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Pennsylvania, have already taken steps to limit venting, flaring and leaks within their boundaries.  

A copy of DeGette’s legislation is available here.