September 12, 2019

Van Hollen, Senators Introduce Legislation to Fight Methane Pollution from Pipelines

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) introduced a bill to protect public health and safety and fight climate change by reducing dangerous leaks from pipelines that release methane and other hazardous gases and pollutants into the air.  The Methane Emissions from Transmission Harm American Neighborhoods and the Environment (METHANE) Act would require owners and operators of pipelines and pipeline facilities to use the best available technology to detect and repair leaking pipelines.

In addition to Van Hollen, the bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

 “Methane leaks are bad for our environment and can be hazardous to residents who live nearby. It’s crucial that the owners and operators of pipelines continue monitoring for these leaks and maintain the responsibility for their repair. This common-sense measure would ensure that, and I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bill. I will continue to fight back against this Administration’s efforts to roll back accountability for big oil and gas companies at the expense of the American people,” said Van Hollen.

“It defies belief that, despite the widespread availability of 21st century technology, the primary leak detectors for natural gas pipelines are the public’s own eyes and noses. Given the looming threat of climate change and the hazards that leaking pipelines present to our communities in New Mexico and across the country, we can and must do better in the year 2019,” Udall said. “It is also shocking that the Trump administration has recklessly chosen to weaken the minimal methane protections already in place – given that methane is a super-pollutant that is accelerating climate change. So, we are introducing this legislation to put us back on track to protect the health and safety of our children and most vulnerable communities from dangerous leaks. Americans deserve to know that the pipelines close to their homes and communities are using the best available technology to keep families safe and fight climate change at the same time.”

“We know that methane is a potent greenhouse gas and major driver of climate change, and that exposure to it can cause serious illness or death,” said Carper, top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee. “Despite the bipartisan consensus that we need to reduce methane emissions, the Trump Administration has repeatedly tried to repeal or weaken these commonsense protections. This legislation will ensure pipeline owners and operators use state-of-the-art technology to avoid, identify and stop leaking pipelines.”

The administration’s decision to roll back a rule requiring pipeline owners and operators to limit methane leaks was a step in the wrong direction,” said Feinstein. “Methane is a dangerous air pollutant and major contributor to climate change. Enough methane leaks from pipelines each year to fuel 10 million homes and it’s a problem we can end. I’m pleased to join my colleagues on a bill to reduce waste and limit the damage from a harmful greenhouse gas while supporting innovative technology.”

 “Every American deserves the right to breathe clean air, yet this administration has consistently rolled back the very environmental safeguards that protect families in California and across the country,” said Harris. “I’m proud to co-sponsor this legislation to hold the oil and gas industry accountable while protecting public health and decreasing potent greenhouse gas emissions. We must stand up for the health of our environment and our communities.”

“Reducing methane pollution is critical to fighting the climate crisis. Methane leaks are wasteful for consumers and dangerous to our first responders and climate. Companies should be using the most advanced technology available to address these leaks now. I have long worked to curb leaks from our aging, leaking natural gas infrastructure —including by passing amendments on methane leaks in the 2016 PHMSA reauthorization bill—and will continue to fight to reduce this waste that is fueling the climate crisis,” said Markey.

This August, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to eliminate federal requirements that oil and gas companies install technology to detect and fix methane leaks from wells, pipelines and storage facilities. The proposed rule would also reopen the question of whether the E.P.A. had the legal authority to regulate methane as a pollutant.  This continues the Trump administration’s clear attempts to roll back commonsense environmental protections, like those that have been in place to address leaking methane from oil and gas facilities and pipelines.

The threat of climate change means that leaks of methane – a greenhouse gas super pollutant – need urgent attention from all federal regulators. Natural gas (methane) leaks from pipelines create dangerous conditions for the public, and they also contribute to and accelerate climate change, as methane is eighty-four times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over the first twenty years following its release.

According to EPA’s latest greenhouse gas inventory, leaks and routine operations in the transmission and storage component of the gas supply chain lead to 1.3 million metric tons of methane released per year.  A recent study by the Environmental Defense Fund found that fifty to ninety percent of the methane releases attributable to maintenance activity to address leaky pipelines could be cost-effectively mitigated using currently available methods and technology.  A 2016 analysis by ICF International concluded that leak detection and repair from the oil and gas sector could cut emissions by over 40 percent using equipment already available on the market at the time, at a cost of less than 1 penny per thousand cubic feet of gas produced.

Moreover, the value of natural gas savings gas to both industry and consumers could amount to well over a half-billion dollars a year.

The METHANE Act would:

  • Require owners and operators of pipeline facilities to use advanced leak detection technology that includes high sensitivity methane detectors mounted on a vehicle or aircraft, including a drone, and equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) technology or any other technologies that meet minimum performance standards.  Such technologies are readily available and considered “off the shelf” today.
  • Requires owners and operators of pipeline facilities to use best available technology to capture natural gas when making repairs and to develop or participate in replacement or repair programs for pipeline facilities that are known to be leaky. 
  • Change the reporting threshold for any event that releases natural gas from a pipeline facility in an unintentional estimated gas loss of 3 million cubic feet to 50,000 cubic feet, which is approximately 10 months’ worth of gas.  An average American home uses 175 cubic feet per day.  3 million cubic feet is about 47 years’ worth of gas for an average home. One year’s worth of gas for an average home would be about 64,000 cubic feet.

The bill is supported by the Environmental Defense Fund, the Pipeline Safety Trust, Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, and the Wilderness Society.

“The bill reflects a simple truth: Congress must act to detect and eliminate leaks from the nation’s natural gas infrastructure,” said Elgie Holstein of Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s critical for public health and safety and for the environment.”

The full text of the bill can be found HERE.