New Climate Bill to Tackle Texas Methane Emissions

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Included in the Inflation Reduction Act is a provision aimed at cutting methane emissions from oil and gas drilling, but it remains to be seen whether it will have a broad effect on the industry.

The bill would levy a fine on oil and gas producers whose wells emit methane above a certain threshold.

But Kassie Siegel - director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity - said methane emissions are overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, and the fines will only be as effective as the EPA’s oversight requires.

“Polluters have a choice when it comes to the fee,” said Siegel. “They can comply with the regulation or they can pay the fee, but they don’t have to do both - it’s one or the other.”

The Inflation Reduction Act, approved by the Senate and House is headed to the president’s desk for a signature. It’s the biggest clean-energy package in the country’s history.

Erandi Treviño, Texas state coordinator with Moms Clean Air Force, said methane in an invisible super-pollutant that is detrimental to the health of those who live near the wells where it’s emitted. She said high-tech companies that sell detection equipment could profit from the new climate provisions.

“Because we can’t see them, we can’t capture them, our ability to even measure the quality of the air at any given time is limited,” said Treviño. “I think the more different technologies that come out, I think that’s very beneficial.”

This month, the EPA conducted flyovers of the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico using infrared cameras to survey oil and gas operations, looking for “super-emitters” of methane gas. The agency says it plans to identify facilities releasing excess emissions and contact those companies.

Siegel said that’s a good start, but compliance is only as effective as the EPA’s rules.

“I’m not aware of any instance of EPA enforcing its current oil and gas methane rules, and that has to change,” said Siegel. “This is a dirty and dangerous industry and oversight’s critical.”

Despite an agreement to rein in methane emissions, climate action provisions in the new federal legislation require the government to auction millions of acres of oil and gas leases before it can auction acreage for wind and solar farms.

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