Lawmakers Ask Industry for Permian Methane Leak Data

The US government is looking to size up efforts related to leak detection and repair practices.

An Occidental well location in the Permian basin. Oxy was one of 10 operators in the region to receive the US House Science Committee letter this week.
SOURCE: Occidental

The US House Science Committee has sent letters to the chief executives of 10 major oil companies requesting additional data disclosure regarding emissions of methane from the nation’s top onshore oil and gas producing region. Lawmakers are concerned that the technology being used by the oil industry to detect methane leak emissions isn’t up to the task and may need additional government participation and oversight. The request comes in the shadow of last month’s United Nations climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, where more than 100 other countries have pledged to cut emissions by 30% by the end of the decade.

The Committee is targeting the Permian Basin of west Texas and southeastern New Mexico. The letter cites a recent peer-reviewed study that concluded “the Permian Basin is likely the largest observed methane-emitting [oil and gas] basin in the United States.” As such, the Committee is limiting its initial information request to oil and gas operations within that area.

Companies receiving the letter included ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Pioneer Natural Resources, and Devon Energy as well as smaller, focused operators including Ameredev II LLC, Coterra, Admiral Permian Resources, and Mewbourne Oil.

“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,” Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, wrote in a letter to the oil bosses. “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.”

While it dissipates faster, methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere, making it a chief target in the fight again climate change and global warming. In the letter, Johnson cited a study that found that about 60% more methane was leaked in 2015 than was counted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The letter added that the persistence of methane leaks raises concerns about whether existing leak detection and repair practices in the US are adequate to identify them.

“Indeed, a large and growing body of scientific evidence in recent years has found that oil and gas sector methane leaks are a much bigger problem than previously believed, and that the Federal Government systematically underestimates oil and gas sector methane emissions due to its inaccurate understanding of the size and intermittency of methane leaks, particularly so-called 'super-emitters,'” the letter read.

The committee asked each contacted operator for information about their own intermittent, large emission leaks, and how they go about identifying them. It also asked operators how their methods for calculating emissions differed from those required by the EPA’s greenhouse gas reporting program.

Lawmakers asked for a response and the initial data to be delivered to the committee by 21 January 2022.

The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has jurisdiction over the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, energy research, development, and demonstration programs within the Department of Energy, and environmental research and development programs within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization and the EPA.