When, after three months, the damaged well at the Aliso Canyon storage facility finally stopped spewing methane in February, California was home to arguably the worst such leak in U.S. history. But state air regulators couldn’t fine the company responsible.
“We did not have a regulation in place that covered the methane emissions,” says Mary Nichols, chair of the state Air Resources Board. “We worked with the company to try to get them to voluntarily mitigate for the impacts.”
The Air Resources Board moved closer Thursday to putting first-ever limits on methane, a potent greenhouse gas that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates as 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, although it has a shorter lifespan in the atmosphere.
The board voted to develop a final regulation that would limit the amount of methane oil and gas operations can emit, as well as require quarterly inspections and reporting. The board estimates it could cut leaks from the industry by about 40 percent. Nichols describes the rule as “good housekeeping.”
“Just making sure that the companies are inspecting things, reporting on the emissions, so people in communities can know what’s going on, and then requiring the owners of these facilities to fix the leaks,” says Nichols.
Before the vote, environmental groups generally praised the rule. Representatives from the oil and gas industry argued they are too onerous in their current form and do not allow companies enough flexibility to meet the methane limits.
The board plans to vote to enact the limits next spring.