The amount of methane that major oil and gas companies are emitting in the Permian Basin is likely significantly higher than the official numbers they are reporting to the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a new report by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
The investigation Science Committee staff – based on internal data from oil and gas companies – found that companies are “failing to design, equip and inform” their methane leakage activities, noting that the sector’s approach “does not reflect the latest scientific evidence on methane leaks.”
Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat, said at a Wednesday committee hearing the investigation found that companies are “failing to address super-emitting methane leaks, deflecting the use of methane quantification data, and deploying mitigating methane detection technologies too slowly and too inconsistently.”
“Unfortunately, the oil and gas sector has a long way to go to rein in methane leaks,” Bernice Johnson said.
Methane, a main component of natural gas, has more than 80 times more planet-warming power in the near-term than carbon dioxide. But because of its shorter life span and outsized warming potential, scientists say reducing methane emissions is the most effective way to quickly limit global warming.
The Science Committee’s investigation started last year, after Democratic members asked 10 oil and gas companies – including Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron – to disclose internal data on overall emissions leaking from oil and gas operations in the Permian Basin, where much of US production is happening. The committee also asked the companies how they planned to cut those emissions, which can leak from oil and gas wells and equipment like compressors.
According to data from the US Energy Information Administration, the US has thousands of active wells for natural gas, as well as millions of abandoned oil and gas wells. The Biden administration passed funding in its bipartisan infrastructure law last year to clean up orphan wells on state and federal lands.
Infrared cameras and advanced satellites can capture methane emissions around the globe, giving scientists and regulators insight into their true emissions.
Methane is a major focus of President Joe Biden’s climate push. Last year, cutting methane emissions was a centerpiece of COP26, where Biden and EU leaders unveiled a global methane pledge to cut global emissions 30% by 2030. Biden’s EPA is also pursuing a methane rule that would push oil and gas companies to more accurately detect, monitor and repair methane leaks from new and existing wells, pipelines and other equipment.
At Wednesday’s hearing, however, many Republicans in the committee expressed concerns about the Biden administration’s new methane rule and instead, hailed the progress that has been made due to new technologies, comparing the US to other countries.
“We’re producing more energy with fewer emissions, and much like our reductions in carbon dioxide, innovation has and will continue to be the better driver of action and regulatory regulations or prohibitions,” said Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma. “Simply put, we don’t need the tax or a ban methane in anyway. We simply need to cut red tape and allow the energy, agricultural and waste industries to use the breakthrough technologies being developed and refined every day.”
Witnesses at the hearing including scientists and methane detection technology experts say the US remains to be one the highest methane-emitting countries in the world, but that it could also be a leader by addressing methane emissions and the climate crisis at large.