The Environmental Protection Agency recently released a new rule regarding the need to cut methane gas emissions. Among other environmental concerns, this rule is of interest to the faith and science communities because it begins to address some of the urgent need to protect God’s creation, of which we are called to be faithful stewards.
Montana, like other states, is riding the economic boom of the oil and gas industry. That industry is responsible for the majority of methane emissions. Methane gas is a major concern because over the course of 20 years, it is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide for trapping heat in our atmosphere. Methane gas is responsible for 25 percent of global warming. It is also hazardous to our health, particularly to those living near gas and oil extraction operations.
Methane and other greenhouse gas emissions occur throughout the entire chain of the oil and gas production process, including drilling and production, refining, and pipeline distribution. All of us benefit from this industry, though we also all suffer the negative effects of our reliance on fossil fuel consumption.
The goal of the draft rule, now subject to a comment period, is to reduce methane pollution from the gas and oil industry by 40-45 percent over the next 10 years. The benefits of that reduction for Montana will help to preserve the quality of our air and, hence, our quality of life. Those whose health is most vulnerable to any kind of pollution are also counting on the success of pollution reduction efforts, including: older adults, children, pregnant women, and the people living in the most polluted areas, who often are among the most poor.
The recent encyclical by Pope Francis couldn’t have expressed it more succinctly and graphically by saying that we all live in one home, and we must take much better care of it for the sake of creation itself and for future generations.
Creation Justice Ministries, supported by many protestant denominations, applauds the new methane rule, and appeals to everyone, including those in the oil and gas industry, to embrace the initiative as an act of stewardship for our planet.
Montana must do its part in addressing pollution of all kinds, and methane gas emissions are a critical part of preserving our world today and in the future. According to Montana’s Department of Natural Resources, our production of natural gas and oil has grown rapidly over the last decade. We have some 5,400 gas wells throughout the state, all of which contribute to methane gas pollution.
Significantly, adopting measures to trap or cap methane emissions is doable from a financial aspect. Best practices and up-to-date technology can make mitigation of emissions inexpensive. Some companies have already voluntarily moved forward to reduce or eliminate methane emissions, increasing efficiency and reducing costs. Responsible stewardship in this arena even creates jobs, a major benefit to local communities and small businesses all along the production and distribution chain.
Science and religion come together in support of the urgency of addressing climate change. As practitioners from both of those fields, we call upon our state legislators and the gas and oil industry to support the adoption this new rule and work to implement it in Montana in a fair and equitable manner.
Rev. Dr. Dan Spencer is an associate professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Montana and an ordained clergy member of the United Church of Christ. Rev. John Lund is an ELCA Lutheran pastor and director of Emmaus Campus Ministry at the University of Montana in Missoula.