Permian Drillers Told by Lawmakers to Disclose Methane Leaks

Oil producers in the Permian Basin must do more to disclose and stop the leak of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, a House committee wrote in a letter to 10 major oil companies. 

The letter from the House Science Committee was sent to some of the largest fossil fuel producers in the Permian Basin, a major source of oil and natural gas that includes vast portions of Texas and New Mexico. Among them were Exxon Mobil Corp., Occidental Petroleum Corp., ConocoPhillips, Chevron Corp., and Pioneer Natural Resources Co.

In the letter, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat who chairs the the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, said she was concerned that leak detection and repair programs at the companies weren’t sufficient and demanded the companies disclose more information about their leaks and how they found them.

The committee said it is investigating whether existing leak detection and repair programs “possess the capabilities to achieve wide-ranging, quantifiable emission reductions from oil and gas sector methane leaks” and if additional policies are needed for a stronger federal role. The committee said it was requesting private sector leak detection and repair program information to inform its efforts.

“I am concerned that oil and gas sector Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) programs may not be designed and equipped to comprehensively monitor and detect methane leaks, particularly the intermittent, ‘super-emitting’ leaks that are responsible for much of the sector’s leak emissions,” Johnson wrote.

The communication comes as stopping the emission of methane, which is blamed for a quarter of global warming, is getting renewed attention. More than 100 nations signed onto a pledge announced at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, last month to commit to reducing emissions of the potent greenhouse gas 30% by 2030. 

“The United States cannot achieve its targeted reduction in methane emissions under the Global Methane Pledge without a swift and large-scale decline in oil and gas sector methane leaks,” Johnson wrote in the letter. “The existence of these leaks, as well as continued uncertainty regarding their size, duration, and frequency, threatens America’s ability to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

The letter was previously reported by the Washington Post.

Pioneer, which has published methane-reduction targets, said it looks forward to working with Johnson and the committee. “We share her interest in better understanding and minimizing methane emissions from the Permian Basin,” company spokesman Tadd Owens said in an email.

Chevron, which is reviewing the letter, said it “supports well-designed and properly enacted methane regulation.” Exxon said it’s “committed to working with the U.S. government, the European Commission and other governments to help achieve the objectives of the Global Methane Pledge.”

Methane, the chief component of natural gas, traps more than 80 times the heat that the same amount of carbon dioxide does in its first two decades in the atmosphere. But it degrades rapidly, meaning that action taken now can have an almost immediate cooling effect on the Earth’s temperature.