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April 11, 2024 1:49 am

The Methane Gas Leak and Why It Matters in a Time of Climate Action

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Armand Jackson

Earlier in November, a natural gas storage well owned by Equitrans Midstream experienced a gas leak, emitting a massive amount of planet-warming methane into the atmosphere. The leak came from the company’s Rager Mountain storage facility located in a rural area of Cambria County within Western Pennsylvania, not far from Pittsburgh. Equitrans since November 6th has worked alongside Pennsylvania state officials to fix the leak without success. At least until the weekend of the 19th and 20th when one of the company’s contractors, Cudd Well Control, was able to flood the well with heavy liquid and set a plug followed by a second plug alongside 250 feet of pumped cement afterwards to keep it sealed.

The company gave local reporters estimates that while the well was leaking it caused about 100 million cubic feet of natural gas to be vented per day. Now that the leak is plugged this equates to more than 1 billion cubic feet of methane being emitted into the atmosphere. But what exactly is methane and how does this massive leak of it contribute to the global climate crisis? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), methane is a hydrocarbon that is a primary component of natural gas, as well as a greenhouse gas (GHG) that when entered into the atmosphere affects the earth’s temperature and climate system. 

EPA states that it is the second most abundant anthropogenic GHG after carbon dioxide (CO2), accounting for about 20 percent of global emissions, and is more than 25 times as potent as CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere. According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere, setting the pace for warming in the near term. EDF claims that cutting methane emissions is the fastest means of slowing the rate of global warming, which the EPA has proposed. 

On November 11th, when the storage facility leak was ongoing, the EPA released a new regulatory proposalto address the climate crisis by substantially reducing oil and gas methane pollution as it builds upon the agency’s initial proposal released in November 2021. In a news release, Senior Vice President for Pennsylvania Environmental Council, John Walliser, stated: “Capturing methane emissions from oil and gas operations is a cornerstone to responsible energy security and development. We are gratified to see the EPA issue a proposed rule that seeks to further address activities that risk releasing this potent greenhouse gas to the atmosphere”

What will become of this gas leak incident for Equitrans Midstream will depend on future actions taken by Pennsylvania environmental regulators. According to reports, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued the company notice of five potential violations of state law. These citations include; failure to properly maintain and operate the gas facility; creating a public nuisance; producing a “hazard to public health and safety”; and failing to provide state inspectors “free and unrestricted access.”