August 13, 2020

As Methane Emissions Continue to Rise, Van Hollen and Markey Introduce Legislation to Hold Fossil Fuel Industry Accountable for Natural Gas Blowouts

Legislation introduced as Trump administration prepares this week to announce weakened rules on methane monitoring and reporting

U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), both members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, announced introduction of the Natural Gas Blowout Prevention, Oversight, and Liability Act, legislation that would regulate large-scale emissions of natural gas – both flared and uncombusted – and its central component, methane. While oil well operators are held liable for oil spills, there are no federal restrictions or liability for large-scale natural gas releases or blowouts. The legislation would require reporting of all natural gas blowouts, create a national database of blowouts, require the imposition of financial penalties, and direct penalty funds to a blowout prevention grant program.  

“Methane leaks and blowouts accelerate climate change and are harmful to the public health. Our legislation holds polluters accountable for large-scale natural gas methane emissions by penalizing those who don’t take measures to prevent them. It’s simple: polluters should pay for the harm they cause. We will keep fighting the Trump Administration’s dangerous agenda to roll back protections to our health and environment,” said Senator Van Hollen. 

“While the oil and gas industry has to face penalties for polluting our land and water after an oil spill, the industry has free rein to pollute our air. Natural gas blowouts pump out huge quantities of harmful methane with no federal accountability,” said Senator Markey. “Natural gas blowouts are entirely preventable and unnecessary, and can have devastating consequences for public health and our climate. The 2015 natural gas blowout in Aliso Canyon had a larger carbon footprint than the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill. This legislation will ensure we hold companies accountable for their dangerous emissions.” 

Senators Van Hollen and Markey introduced legislation last year to combat methane leaks and fought the Trump Administration’s proposed rule when it was announced last November.  

Other Senators co-sponsoring today’s legislation include Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).  

Methane is a dangerous greenhouse gas that is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first two decades after its release. Global methane emissions are at an all-time high, up nine percent from the early 2000s, when methane concentrations were relatively stable. The increase in methane emissions in the past two decades is mostly attributable to fossil fuel and agricultural emissions. A new study reveals that women who live near flaring activities from oil and gas wells have 50 percent greater risk of preterm births than women who don’t, with Hispanic women particularly at risk. 

Specifically, the Natural Gas Blowout Prevention, Oversight, and Liability Act would:

  • Require companies to report natural gas blowouts to the Environmental Protection Agency within 72 hours after a large-scale release occurs and establish a national database of all blowouts
  • Impose penalties for natural gas or flared natural gas that is released as a result of a well blowout, based on the volume released
  • Establish a Blowout Prevention and Response Preparation Grant Program using funds from blowout penalties with the aim to reduce the regularity of blowouts and reduce the burden to state and local governments
  • Require the Chemical Safety and Harvard Investigation Board to submit a report that describes each natural gas blowout from the past ten years and includes recommendations to reduce the number of blowouts
The full text of the legislation is available here. 

The legislation is endorsed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Environmental Defense Fund, the Clean Air Task Force, and Food & Water Watch.