REGINA THOMPSON: Methane prevention would hurt Colorado

Everyone has heard the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Evidently, that advice holds true for federal legislation, too.

Colorado’s own Congresswoman Diana DeGette recently introduced the Methane Waste Prevention Act. Judging by its name, it might seem like this bill would curb emissions of methane, a damaging greenhouse gas emitted during oil and gas production. But it would actually increase global methane pollution.

DeGette’s bill would also bury small energy firms in red tape, forcing many to close. Ultimately, the bill would suffocate one of our state’s most vital industries and raise energy costs for Colorado residents. If DeGette really wants to help the environment, she’ll have to go back to the drawing board.

DeGette’s bill aims to reduce methane emissions by restricting natural gas production on federal and tribal lands. The bill could force between 30 and 40 percent of all natural gas wells on the lands in question to shut down.

Affected firms that don’t shut down would face a host of expensive new rules. The bill would increase the mandatory comment period for every new drilling application, increasing an already lengthy approval process that left thousands of applications pending last year.

Analysis of a similar proposal found regulations like this would lead to nearly $430 million in compliance costs by 2050. Such high costs would hurt all energy firms, and could cause smaller firms to shut down entirely.

Imposing new regulations on energy firms won’t help reduce methane emissions. In fact, it could do quite the opposite.

The energy industry already works to combat methane emissions through things like the Environmental Partnership, a coalition of oil and gas firms committed to reducing pollution. Last year, the group collaborated with researchers at Colorado State University to explore using high-tech cameras to detect and fix otherwise undetectable methane leaks.

Initiatives like these pay off. Between 1990 and 2017, natural gas-related methane emissions fell by 14 percent — even as overall gas production jumped by more than 50 percent. Unfortunately, energy firms would struggle to sustain these successful efforts when forced to comply with the burdensome regulations included in DeGette’s proposal.

That’s not the only way the bill would increase methane pollution. By reducing U.S. energy production, DeGette’s plan would force the United States to import oil and natural gas from countries with lower environmental standards. As foreign energy production increases, so will global methane emissions.

To make matters worse, the Methane Waste Prevention Act would raise costs for our state. Colorado residents currently enjoy some of the lowest energy bills in the country, thanks to an abundance of cheap natural gas. In 2015, Colorado drivers reported over $1,300 in energy-related budget savings. Savings like this will disappear along with domestic energy production.

The bill would also devastate Colorado’s economy. The oil and gas industry contributes more than $31 billion to our economy each year and supports nearly 233,000 jobs across the state. In 2014, oil and gas firms paid over $434 million in Colorado property taxes, more than half of which went directly to public schools.

By making it harder for these firms to develop Colorado’s energy resources, DeGette’s plan will cut off a vital source of jobs and revenue for our state.

DeGette may have good intentions, but her plan to reduce methane emissions sorely misses the mark. Let’s hope she realizes this, and comes up with a plan that works for Americans and the environment.

Regina Thomson is president of the Colorado Issues Coalition, a nonprofit supporting reform in state government, protecting civil liberties, and addressing issues that are timely and critical to the voters of Colorado.