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Waste Not, Want Not: Report Highlights Potential of Methane Industry

Photo: New technologies involved with methane mitigation promise to reduce waste and generate job growth in Colorado and beyond. Photo courtesy: Environmental Defense Fund
Photo: New technologies involved with methane mitigation promise to reduce waste and generate job growth in Colorado and beyond. Photo courtesy: Environmental Defense Fund
October 3, 2014

DENVER - Oil and gas operations in Colorado are drilling down for the valuable fossil fuels found under the soil, but a growing number of companies are making sure that no product is wasted in the process.

A new report released by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) highlights the growth of technology that enables companies to capture and utilize methane gas, a common emission of natural gas development. Scott Prestidge is energy industry manager at Metro Denver, an economic development corporation. He says Colorado is in an ideal position.

"Colorado is on the leading edge, and this methane mitigation industry is going to be an important part of the equation," he says. "We have an important opportunity to demonstrate how to do this in the right way."

Earlier this year, Colorado adopted the nation's first air-pollution rules that require oil and gas companies to control emissions of methane and other smog-forming volatile organic compounds. The report suggests similar rules across the country would create jobs nationwide.

Colorado is third in the country for its number of methane mitigation businesses, with 19 companies having a total of 41 locations in the state. The report says methane mitigation saves an estimated $1.8 billion in wasted product every year.

Marcy Lowe is president of Datu Research, the company that gathered information for the EDF report. She explains some methane leaks happen by accident, and others are the "cost of doing business" for oil and gas companies.

"Some of them are not intentional, they're just leaks out of the system; and others are vented on purpose, really for convenience sake and because there hasn't been a cost-effective way to capture it," says Lowe. "But these technologies make it cost-effective to capture that methane and sell it to a customer."

Prestidge says methane mitigation is a key component in 21st-century oil and gas drilling.

"This is not your father's oil and gas industry, and there are more and more opportunities to utilize clean technologies and convert emissions into dollars," Prestidge says. "It's the right thing for our environment and the right thing for Colorado's economy."

Gov. John Hickenlooper also commented on the report, saying the methane mitigation success detailed in the report "is a great example of how good policy, done in a collaborative way, can bring widespread benefits."

Nearly 30,000 people work in Colorado's oil and gas fields. The state's rules prevent the release of nearly 200,000 tons of methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) each year. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates oil and gas operations emit almost 8-million metric tons of methane per year, which contributes to climate pollution.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - CO