MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – While carbon dioxide typically receives the most attention as it relates to the national climate change discussion, methane from natural gas leaks is an equally important pollutant that shouldn’t be overlooked.
On Thursday evening, West Virginia University's Energy Institute hosted a panel discussion entitled, “The Other Greenhouse Gas and Why It Matters to West Virginia”. The event, featuring a researcher, policy maker, non-profit leader and other subject-matter experts, helped inform an audience of students, faculty, and community leaders about the value of mitigating methane leaks and the associated economic and environmental benefits.
A greenhouse gas that also contains carbon, methane is the primary component of natural gas and is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Oil and natural gas operations are a leading source of methane leaks. West Virginia is the nation’s fourth largest producer of natural gas.
Oil and gas production can also release smog-forming volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants such as benzene alongside methane. The pollutants pose a threat to the nearly 640,000 West Virginians, about one-third of the state’s population, who live within a half-mile of the 75,000 active in-state well sites.
The panel discussion, held in the Media Innovation Center on WVU’s Evansdale Crossing campus, highlighted the importance of new technologies and policies to detect and mitigate methane leaks.
“We are excited to contribute to a much-needed conversation about methane mitigation, especially in light of current proposed rules for the oil and gas industry,” said Trina Wafle, assistant director, Program Development and Research Services for the Energy Institute, and emcee for the event. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing rules that would require the installation of updated equipment to limit methane pollution and ensure that all wells receive regular inspections for potential leaks.
The West Virginia based panelists included Derek Johnson, WVU Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, which is conducting millions of dollars in research on technologies to detect and control methane emissions; WVU alumna and Climate Campaign coordinator for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Morgan King who discussed environmental concerns related to methane; and Delegate Evan Hansen (D- 51st District), Minority Chair for the Natural Resources and the Energy and Manufacturing Committees in the West Virginia House of Delegates, who discussed policy related to methane mitigation.
“This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came out with a new report showing that our current use of fossil fuels will lock in dangerous amounts of global warming in less than a decade,” said King. “Cutting methane emissions in the oil and gas sector is more critical than ever to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and to protect local communities from the public health impacts of this greenhouse gas.”
“With some of the companies that I have worked with you see that most of the natural gas that we produce isn’t used in our state,” said Johnson. “As we look at the LNG terminals that are coming on board who are receiving gas internationally, they require that the gas be developed responsibly.”
During the event, the panelists were asked to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency finalizing national oil and methane rules that as proposed include requirements that would ensure all wells receive regular inspections for leaks as well as install updated equipment to limit methane pollution.
“This means jobs for West Virginia, we have 75,000 wells in this state, many of which are active,” said Hansen. “One of the things that’s going to be required is inspections, which means jobs for inspectors and another thing that’s going to be required is people to install technologies to make sure that the methane doesn’t leak.”
The event was capped off by a presentation from WVU alumnus and co-founder of Iconic Air, Kyle Gillis. Gillis, named to Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 list in 2020, started his journey as a climate entrepreneur during his senior year at WVU. Gillis and Iconic Air co-founder and fellow WVU alum James Carnes created carbon accounting software for companies in energy-intensive industries that want to track, manage, and reduce their carbon emissions.
“When we got started in 2019, we were getting involved with organization affiliated with WVU, such as the WVU LaunchLab and Business Plan Competition,” said Gillis. “Due to these resources, we were able to get a leg up coming out of school.”
During the presentation, Gillis described how he came to realize that not all opportunities are created equal, comparing businesses that address climate challenges today to the dotcom companies, like Google and Facebook, of yesteryear.
Representatives from the Environmental Defense Fund demonstrated the “Methane CH4llnge,” an immersive virtual reality experience that takes users into a digitally simulated well site to find and fix sources of methane emissions.
The event was sponsored by the EDF. “We were thrilled to partner with the West Virginia University Energy Institute to host this informative discussion,” said John Rutecki, regulatory and legislative manger, Appalachia for the EDF. “West Virginia is the fourth leading energy producer in the United States and strong requirements to limit methane waste and pollution can help West Virginia continue its tradition as an energy-producing leader and grow jobs in the methane mitigation sector,” he said.
MEDIA CONTACT: Tracy Novak
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