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Researchers Question Cost-benefit of Methane Emissions from Low-Producing Oil and Gas Wells

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Thursday, April 28, 2022   

The country's 565,000 low-producing oil and gas wells - thousands of them in Texas - are responsible for approximately half of the methane discharged from all well sites in the United States, according to a new report published in Nature Communications.

These wells produce the equivalent of just 15 barrels a day, while methane is a potent greenhouse gas responsible for over a quarter of current global warming.

Erandi Trevino of Houston is an organizer with Moms Clean Air Force. She said it's important that Environmental Protection Agency's national oil and gas methane rules do more to address low-producing wells, to protect Texans' health and climate.

"Harder summers, colder winters, wetter falls," said Trevino. "We need to act as residents, as community members - that we're speaking up for our own communities, making sure that this is made a priority."

The study concludes that low-producing wells typically leak 6 to 12 times more than the average, and are responsible for just 6% of U.S oil and gas production, resulting in outsized pollution. Texas is home to tens of thousands of these wells - which produce a full quarter of leaked methane.

Trevino said extreme weather events - happening more frequently - can take an extreme toll on communities: financially, physically and mentally.

Historically under-resourced communities can take longer to recover from major weather damage and its long-term effects - like mold from flooding - and catastrophic weather and ongoing pollution can leave lasting scars.

"It's also health," said Trevino. "A lot of our communities, especially communities of color - communities that are low income - face a disproportionate high level of asthma, of all types of different health problems that are made worse or caused by pollution."

Nationally, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering regulatory changes to reduce oil and gas methane emissions.

Lead study author Mark Omara, a scientist and senior analyst with the Environmental Defense Fund, said the EPA's current proposal leaves out many of these smaller wells.

But fixing the wells would more than cover costs, because the gas these facilities discharge into the atmosphere is valued at about $700 million a year, even at 2019 prices.

"Rusted pipes from which leaks occur, pressure-relief valves that malfunction, open-thief hatches on tanks that continue to vent," said Omara. "And all of these issues can be fixed via regular monitoring and leak inspection and repair."



Disclosure: Environmental Defense Fund contributes to our fund for reporting on Energy Policy, Environment, Environmental Justice, Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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