Cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas industry could create thousands of jobs across the country and in oil-producing states like New Mexico which is home to one of the most prolific fossil fuel regions in the Permian Basin.
A report from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) released on Monday showed the methane mitigation industry nearly doubled in size since 2017 when oil production began booming in the basin of southeast New Mexico and West Texas, lead by the expanded use of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.
The report studied 200 companies dedicated to reducing emissions through products and services at more than extraction 750 locations across the U.S.
Methane, a greenhouse gas, was noted in the report as responsible for 25 percent of global warming and is a main component of extracted natural gas.
U.S. oil and gas companies emit up 16 million metric tons of methane each year, representing $3 billion worth of “waste” natural gas, the report read.
New Mexico recently enacted new regulations on methane emissions from oil and gas at its Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, setting a goal of 98 percent gas capture by 2026 and calling for an end to routine flaring, the burning of excess gas.
The New Mexico Environment Department was underway with its own emissions regulations expected to be complete later this year and increasing requirements for reporting of releases by operators and the greater implementation of technologies to reduce air pollution.
Such state regulations led to an increase in demand for emission reduction services, per the report, with 75 percent of manufacturing companies and 88 percent of service firms anticipating hiring more workers as the New Mexico’s and other state’s regulations go into effect.
On the federal level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held listening sessions with environmental groups, local residents and industry officials this week as it prepares its own methane regulations which could lead to further growth in the mitigation sector, the report read.
“In recent years we’ve seen a range of operators – from small independent producers to multinational companies – embrace methane reductions as a critical part of doing business,” said Andrew Baxter, director of energy strategy for the Environmental Defense Fund.
“Sensible methane standards that apply nationwide will even the playing field among operators and yield significant benefits to the economy and the environment.”
Audrey Mascarenhas, chief executive officer at Questor, a methane mitigation company based in Canada said a balance between economic growth from extraction and environmental protection can be struck using modern technology.
“People think you have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment but the fact of the matter is we have 25 years of proof that reducing methane saves money, creates jobs and protects our climate,” she said. “It’s a win-win-win that can be achieved very cost-effectively.”
The report argued salaries with methane mitigation companies are 10 percent higher than the national average, with workers earning up to $140,000 per year.
Most firms, 70 percent, are small businesses, the report read, and their growth could stimulate local economies.
“Jobs in the methane reduction industry have been growing rapidly and will continue to do so as more and more companies, their investors, and the general public demand cleaner energy production,” said Isaac Brown, executive director of the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions.
“Reinstating and expanding methane limits for the oil and gas industry will undoubtedly help grow good-paying jobs across the country in this innovative sector.”
Fixing methane leaks possible for most oil and gas operators
About half of the largest sources of methane in the Permian were caused by malfunctioning equipment throughout the oilfield, per a study from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in collaboration with the University of Arizona and Arizona State University and published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
And fixing the worst leaks, the report read, could cut emissions by 55 tons per hour, the study read.
That reduction could occur from repairing 123 sources consistently leaking methane during flights of sensor-equipped aircraft conducted for the study, which make up 5.5 percent of the EPA’s estimates for all methane emissions from the industry in the U.S.
“Super-emitters” studies were identified as those emitting more than 22 pounds of methane per hour, locating a total 1,756 such emitters in a 22,000 square-mile portion of the basin in Texas and New Mexico.
Scientists aimed to distinguished between planned emissions and accidental by revising sites up to a dozen times, the report read.
Planned emissions were likely to only be visible on “one or two” consecutive flights, read the report, while malfunctioning equipment would release plumes visible consistently during several flights.
The research focused on 1,100 sources where plumes were observed during three or more visits.
Of those, 123 were found to have plumes visible from 50 to 100 percent of visits, emitting 29 percent of the methane found from the entire group of facilities in the study.
“Multiple revisits of these sites are the best way to discriminate between unplanned and planned emissions,” said Daniel Cusworth, a lead author of the study.
Riley Duren at University of Arizona who designed and led the flights said that once emissions are detected, they can mostly likely be repaired.
He also argued monitoring needed to be constant, as scientists found broad variations in the timing and amount of emissions at the facilities.
“We’ve done cooperative studies with oil and gas operators in California and the Permian where they independently report that 50 percent of the sources we’re finding are fixable,” he said. “You need measurements daily or weekly.
“That’s a big argument for using airborne and satellite remote sensing.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.