Two reports released last week say that methane leaks from natural gas pipelines harm both the economy and environment, and not enough is being done to reduce the damage.
In Improvements Needed in EPA Efforts to Address Methane Emissions From Natural Gas Distribution Pipelines, the EPA Office of Inspector General said that the agency’s current voluntary program to address methane leaks from pipelines has yielded only minimal reductions.
As well as contributing to climate change, the report said, more than $192 million worth of natural gas was lost in 2011 due to such leaks, increasing prices paid by consumers…
The report’s executive summary says this:
The EPA has placed little focus and attention on reducing methane emissions from pipelines in the natural gas distribution sector…The EPA does not currently regulate methane emissions from the distribution sector and has not partnered with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which regulates pipeline safety, to control methane leaks…We recommend that the EPA (1) work with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to address methane leaks from a combined environmental and safety standpoint, (2) develop a strategy to address the financial and policy barriers that hinder reductions from the distribution sector, (3) establish performance goals, (4) track distribution sector emissions and use that data to help determine if future regulation would be appropriate, and (5) assess whether data from ongoing studies should be used to update distribution sector emission factors. The agency agreed with recommendations 1 and 2 and provided corrective action plans that meet the intent of the recommendations. The agency partially agreed with recommendations 3, 4 and 5 and these three recommendations are considered unresolved.
Meanwhile, a report from the BlueGreen Alliance says that the US should replace leak-prone pipelines every 10 years instead of the 30-year period that's now standard.
Interconnected – The Economic and Climate Change Benefits of Accelerating Repair and Replacement of America’s Natural Gas Distribution Pipelines
- Accelerating the timeframe of pipe replacement would increase Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by over $37 billion by 2024, leaving GDP $30 billion higher in that year compared to the 30-year repair and replacement schedule.
- By the end of the 10-year replacement timeline, over 313,000 people would be employed, with nearly 250,000 more jobs created than in the 30-year repair and replacement scenario.
- Over three decades, the accelerated 10-year scenario would save nearly $4.4 billion worth of gas. Those savings are $1.5 billion more than under the current rate of repair and replacement.
- The faster replacement rate prevents an additional 81 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from being emitted into the atmosphere, roughly equivalent to taking 17 million cars off the road for one year.
Will these two reports spur action?
July 29 UPDATE: The US Department of Energy has announced "a series of actions, partnerships, and stakeholder commitments to help modernize the nation’s natural gas transmission and distribution systems and reduce methane emissions." But voluntary commitments are no substitute for strong Federal and state regulations.