One of the fastest and easiest ways to lower atmosphere-warming emissions and slow down the rate of climate change is to reduce the amount of methane escaping into the atmosphere. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and one of the biggest factors in California’s changing climate, with more than 80 times the amount of heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide for the first 20 years after it is released.
Speakers at a recent symposium in Los Angeles highlighted the methane problem in southern California and highlighted solutions to address it. Methane comes from a variety of sources, including aging gas infrastructure, oil exploration and refinement, landfill and agriculture, which will require us to find multi-disciplinary solutions to make a dent in our methane fumes. Climate Action Reserve pointed out that the majority of California’s agricultural methane emissions come from dairy cows, leading some groups to propose increased use of vegan and vegetarian meal choices at public institutions such as schools and government facilities. SoCal Gas is using drones to find gas leaks in aging pipelines and infrastructure so the leaks can then be plugged. Immediately before the symposium, LA City Councilmember Paul Koretz announced an initiative to make Los Angeles a national leader in cutting methane pollution, including a ban on fracking in parts of the City, with a view toward creating solutions that can be replicated elsewhere. These are examples of the kind of innovative problem-solving that can help us begin to tackle our methane problem, which is particularly bad in the LA basin. But more needs to be done at the federal level if we are to have any chance of success.
As noted by Councilmember Koretz, an enormous amount of methane escapes during the hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” process, during which thousands of gallons of water and a dangerous cocktail of chemicals are pumped into underground shale deposits to extract natural gas. It remains to be seen if the series of first-time federal fracking regulations being released over the coming weeks will start to address the industry’s huge methane problem, which occurs because of leaks as well as flaring.
Opponents of the regulations, mainly the fossil fuel industry, claim that the fracking industry helped America out of recession and any regulation of this industry will kill it. While the fracking boom of the past decade may have contributed to lower costs for natural gas for American consumers and created jobs, it has had catastrophic effects on local water supplies, people’s health as well as the atmosphere when you factor in the huge rate of methane leakage associated with the process. The long-term costs of addressing these issues will be far higher than any cost of regulation borne by the fracking industry and the jobs would be better shifted to safer, clean energy industries.
Strengthening regulations that clamp down on methane emissions would be a great place to start ramping up our efforts to address climate change before we reach the dangerous tipping point after which impacts will happen too quickly for humans to be able to adapt. Such action would also have the added benefit of improving air quality and reducing smog, which would bring down rates of childhood asthma and other breathing illnesses, something of great personal meaning to me as the mother of an asthmatic child. Despite protests from the fossil fuel industry, healthy air and healthy children are two things we should all be able to get behind.