Unregulated methane leaks in Texas wreak havoc on the climate

Reconciliation package

Congressional Democrats reached a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on a clean energy package that will reduce U.S. carbon emissions by roughly 40% by 2030.

The budget reconciliation bill, called the Inflation Reduction Act, contains several climate, health care, and tax measures. Despite its name, experts say it is unlikely to actually curb inflation. The real benefit of the package is its contributions to green energy, providing incentives to shift from fossil fuels to wind and solar power.

The tax credits for zero-emitting electricity sources in the “Inflation Reduction Act” largely follow the model laid out in “Build Back Better.”

The new bill would essentially extend the existing clean energy tax credits through 2025. Like “Build Back Better,” it would provide a base payment for the production tax credit (PTC) historically used by wind facilities and the investment tax credit (ITC) available to solar and other renewable sources.

Americans who opt to use clean energy will see lower prices by taking advantage of the bill’s solar energy and electric vehicle tax credits worth thousands of dollars.

In order to gain Manchin’s support, however, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had to promise to support a highly contested 304-mile gas pipeline in West Virginia. The Mountain Valley Pipeline faces opposition from environmental advocates, who argue that the project will contaminate water and destroy ecosystems, and from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, which believe cultural burial mounds are located in the path of the pipeline. Manchin also required regular leasing of federal land and waters for oil and gas extraction.

The package’s biggest hurdle comes from another senator, Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and her potential opposition to two of the funding mechanisms: a 15% corporate minimum tax, expected to raise $313 billion, and the closing of the carried interest loophole, which would raise $14 billion. It is unclear if the Arizona senator will support either provision; her office said she will wait until the parliamentarian reviews the bill to comment.

In the meantime, corporations and pro-business groups are running ads and ramping up lobbying efforts in the hopes of swaying her vote to kill the Inflation Reduction Act.

Americans for Prosperity, which is part of the larger Koch network, launched two ads on Saturday on its Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages. The ads specifically call out the two senators, encouraging them to oppose the legislation. “Senator Manchin can stop it. Come on, Joe … Say NO for West Virginia,” the Manchin-focused ad says. The Sinema ad has an almost identical look, stating “Senator Sinema can stop it. Come on, Kyrsten … Say NO for Arizona.”

Yellowstone wolves

A veteran Yellowstone National Park employee is under suspicion of assisting hunters in killing a protected wolf in the midst of a catastrophic hunting season that resulted in the decimation of one-fifth of the park’s wolf population.

Last season’s wolf hunt wreaked unprecedented damage due to Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte’s lifting of hunting limits like quotas and bans on snares and baited traps. By the end of the season, Montana reported killing 271 wolves, including 19 members of Yellowstone packs.

The first killings were reported less than a week after the season opened: two 8-month-old pups and a yearling. They were members of the Junction Butte pack, the most famous wolves on Earth. Living embodiments of one of the most celebrated conservation comeback stories of all time, their very existence helped make 2021 Yellowstone’s busiest year on record.

Doug Smith was in his office in Mammoth, Wyoming, home base for Yellowstone staff, when the news came. Smith has been with the Yellowstone Wolf Project since the beginning, serving as senior biologist and head of the program for 24 of its 27 years. He was surprised and troubled. The killings had started so soon. Being late summer, the wolves’ fur was still light and ratty — without the luxuriant winter coat, it had no economic value. What’s more, the pups had never left the pack before. “Their first movements and they’re dead,” Smith told me. “It was hard to take.”

Of particular concern to park officials is the killing of wolf 1233 by Brian Helms, a backcountry ranger who served with the Park Service for more than three decades. While working in his official position in January, Helms spotted some wolves on the park’s northern edge. He got off work and met up with a Trump-supporting anti-wolf crusader named Ryan Counts. The pair traveled to the northern boundary of Yellowstone where they shot and killed wolf 1233, allegedly just minutes before the hunting cutoff time of 5:59 pm.

However, GPS data from the wolf’s collar showed the animal was still within park boundaries when it was killed and outside the legal hunting window. Helms disputes that he did anything wrong and retired before meeting with investigators.

Shortly after the hunt, Helms said he met with Chris Flesch, now the park’s top ranger and at the time its deputy chief. According to Helms, Flesch informed him that allegations had been made against him — in Helms’s words: “That while I was on duty working, I would locate animals and give their locations to people outside the park who were hunting those animals.” The claims would lead to an administrative investigation inside the park. Helms recalled receiving the information in the morning. “I retired that afternoon,” he said…

Following his hunt, Helms said he learned that he and at least two other Yellowstone rangers were suspected in a “conspiracy,” as Helms put it, one in which the park’s deadliest year since the reintroduction was at least in part an inside job, with park law enforcement intentionally targeting wolves prized by park researchers by sharing their locational information with hunters. Helms said it was baseless.

Methane leaks

A compressor station in Texas was seen releasing an estimated 870 kilograms of methane—similar to burning seven tanker trucks full of gas every day—according to a new study by Carbon Mapper and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Methane is a greenhouse gas that is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. It is an odorless, colorless, flammable gas that is primarily used as fuel for heat and light, but also occurs in the decay of natural materials (like in landfills and sewers).

Methane leaks have come under recent scrutiny as more and more research reveals that the legal and unregulated emissions are a major culprit of greenhouse gas increases in the atmosphere. These leaks come not just from oil and gas wells, but also from homes and businesses. For example, one study from 2019 found that leaks of methane on the U.S. eastern seaboard are twice as large as official tallies estimate:

The team’s analyses suggest the five biggest urban areas studied—which together include about 12% of the nation’s population—emit about 890,000 tons of methane each year, the researchers report this week in Geophysical Research Letters. The vast majority of that, at least 750,000 tons, comes from methane leaks from homes, businesses, and gas distribution infrastructure, rather than natural sources and other human-driven sources such as landfills. For comparison, the team notes, that’s well over triple the amount emitted by gas production in the Bakken shale formation in the U.S. Midwest.

Carbon Mapper identified the sites that consistently spew methane into the atmosphere, allowing the AP to identify dozens of super-emitting sources in Texas alone. In addition to West Texas Gas’s Mako site, researchers found that the nearby Sale Ranch oil field emits 410 kilos of methane an hour; Houston’s Targa Resources’s 30 sites emit a combined 3,000 kilograms of methane per hour; and facilities owned by Navitas Midstream emits a combined 3,525 kilos of methane an hour.