Waiting to Inhale

The air may be getting better. At some point in the future

By Gary S. Vasilash

Arguably, OEMs have been, and continue to, address emissions concerns. Let’s face it: for more than 100 years the fundamental getting to there from here has involved combustion, whether of gasoline or diesel fuel, combustion that leads to a variety of outputs (beyond kinetic energy) like emissions that aren’t particularly healthful for people.

That said, there are millions of vehicles on the roads of the planet right now, and as vehicles are retired out of the fleet there are new ones taking their places. While the OEMs are, by and large, working hard to develop more fully electric vehicles—which don’t even have tailpipes—this work takes time, and even were they to replace every single gas- or diesel-powered vehicle on their lots with EVs, it takes even more time for the replacement to take place.

There is a drive by corporations (e.g., car companies) and countries to become “carbon neutral” within the next few decades, Which is no mean feat. An objective is to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions because of the effects of that gas on the atmosphere.

But there is another gas that is associated with fuels, methane. And while there is less of it produced, it is more nefarious climate-wise.

So the U.S. EPA has proposed a rule that, it says, “would reduce 41 million tons of methane emissions from 2023 to 2035, the equivalent of 920 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s more than the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from all U.S. passenger cars and commercial aircraft in 2019.”

A large amount of the methane emissions is a result of leaks in the oil and natural gas industry. Unlike those leaks associated with massive oil slicks, these leaks are not the sort of thing you can see.

You’d think that plugging leaks would be something that the oil and natural gas industry would be interested in doing. But given that there needs to be a proposed rule, apparently that is not always the case.

But it is a bit concerning that the metric being used by the EPA in terms of methane reduction is 12 years to accomplish what was emitted in one.

Here’s something else to think about:

Although it is hard to have a whole lot of sympathy for the oil companies (this is not to blame them for the chemistry of combustion, mind you), it does seem that they’re the ones who are going to be in tough straits going forward: There are the car companies who are looking to replace their petroleum-powered vehicles with those that run on electricity, which means there will be less gas bought at corner stations around the world, and in the case of this proposed (remember: proposed) methane mitigation, they’re going to have to plug the leaks.

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