August 12, 2020

As Methane Emissions Continue to Rise, Van Hollen, Markey Introduce Legislation to Hold the 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, today 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 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. 

The full text of the legislation is available here.

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

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