(May 31, 2016) The California Air Resources Board proposed an important new rule today that will reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations. If finalized, it will give California one of the most comprehensive methane standards in the world, encompassing both new and existing facilities both on land and offshore. The new policy will also cover natural gas storage facilities like Aliso Canyon, the site of one of the nation’s largest natural gas disasters.
Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas and a common byproduct of oil production, is a highly potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe.
However, the proposal creates a serious loophole, known as a “step-down” provision, which would allow operators to shift to less rigorous monitoring requirements if it fails to find leaks over a specified number of inspections. This would create a powerful, perverse incentive to avoid finding and reporting leaks, and a baked-in reason to avoid fixing them quickly.
“This rule is a major accomplishment in reducing the serious health and climate risks associated with methane, but it doesn’t go far enough,” said Tim O’Connor, Senior Attorney and Director of California Oil and Gas at EDF. “The step-down provision would actually give oil and gas companies strong motivation not to find or report their leaks. That’s a huge step backward.”
While the new regulation will require quarterly leak detection and repair, the step-down provision allows operators to meet only loose annual inspection requirements after only a year of compliance. Research has shown that leaks from equipment malfunctions and poor maintenance lead to significant emissions that are not reflected in emission inventories.
“To fix the leaks, you have to find them. California’s aging oil and gas infrastructure increases the likelihood of dangerous leaks happening anywhere at any time, which is why frequent inspections are so important,” said O’Connor. “While this is a strong rule, it needs to have permanent mandatory quarterly inspections to protect the state’s people and the environment.”
# # #
Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on EDF Voices, Twitter and Facebook.