Huge, preventable greenhouse gas leaks in Ohio, group warns

By: - November 6, 2023 4:50 am

Oil and gas well on a ridgetop in Eastern Ohio. These wells engage in the controversial practice called fracking to extract oil and natural gas. Getty Images.

Almost $100 million worth of methane is spewing into Ohio skies each year, mainly through preventable leaks, according to a new analysis.

Reducing the flow would not only save money and bolster tax revenue, it would be one of the most effective steps policymakers and energy companies could take to address the growing climate crisis, a member of a group that sponsored the analysis said.

Synapse Energy Economics performed the analysis, which was released on Thursday last week and was sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund and Taxpayers for Common Sense. 

It used data gathered at some of Ohio’s natural gas wells in 2019 and extrapolated it across the state’s 44,000 active wells to determine that in that year alone, 31 billion cubic feet of gas was wasted. Almost all — 99.6% — was due to leakage, with the rest being lost through flaring and venting, the report said.

That amount was 50% higher than estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection agency, said John Rutecki, the Environmental Defense Fund’s regulatory and legislative manager for Appalachia. 

Such huge amounts are especially critical now, as the scientific consensus builds that we’re facing a climate tipping point. Certainly, the frequency of freakish weather seems to be on the rise.

June through August saw the hottest global temperatures on record, and January through August saw the second-hottest. And, as predicted, extreme weather accompanied the sweltering temps, including the longest-lasting tropical storm in Africa, heat waves in Europe, Asia and the United States, a deadly wildfire on Maui and a deluge in Libya that erased entire towns and killed more than 11,000.

Just this week, Storm Ciarán lashed England and France with record winds and near-record lows in barometric pressure — despite the lateness of the season and the northerly latitude.

Leaking methane, the primary component of natural gas, promises to make such dire problems worse. Over a 20-year time frame, it has 84 times the warming power of carbon dioxide, the report that was released on Thursday said.

“Cutting emissions from the oil and gas industry truly is the fastest and most cost-effective way to address global warming right now,” said Rutecki of the Environmental Defense Fund.

It appears that low-producing wells — which often are owned by big companies — are most responsible for the leakage.

“Low-producing wells are actually driving about half the methane emissions we’re having from oil and gas production, but they’re only accounting for 6% of actual production,” Rutecki said.

That might be because the most marginal producers are least able to properly maintain their equipment.

“Sometimes, it’s something as simple as a valve or a screw needs to be tightened,” Rutecki said.

The EPA is finalizing a proposed rule aimed at reducing methane emissions. The Environmental Defense Fund hopes that it will include stepped-up inspections at gas wells, among other measures, such as prohibiting routine flaring.

Rutecki said that many energy producers are already developing technologies intended to reduce leaks and other waste.

“They all recognize that it’s an energy resource that they could be bringing to market,” he said.



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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.