IBEW Joins Natural Gas Methane Reduction Initiative


August 15, 2014


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Methane gas escaping from aging pipelines is undermining the environmental and cost improvements expected from natural gas.

The rapid expansion of North America’s natural gas industry is often cited as an economic and environmental game-changer. The supply of natural gas is increasing and its price is coming down as energy companies expand hydraulic fracturing in states and provinces containing large shale formations from British Columbia to Pennsylvania.


The increased use of natural gas to heat buildings and power vehicles is frequently praised by environmentally-conscious citizens because the fuel emits less carbon to the atmosphere than other fossil fuels.

But a growing body of evidence is showing that methane gas escaping from aging pipelines is undermining the environmental and cost improvements expected from natural gas. Methane is a greenhouse gas that traps 86 times more heat as carbon dioxide does over a 20-year period.

An article in Oil & Energy Insider states: “Scientists have warned that methane emissions from the natural gas industry are a significant contributor to climate change, and in 2013, President Obama’s Climate Action Plan stated that “curbing emissions of methane is critical to our overall effort to address global climate change.”

With 20,000 members working at natural gas utilities in North America, the IBEW has joined with four other unions, the Plumbers and Pipefitters, the Utility Workers, the Laborers and the United Steelworkers to boost training for current and future workers who will be needed to rebuild existing natural gas pipelines or install more capacity. Older pipelines made of cast iron or unprotected steel have proven to be more subject to cracking and corrosion.

The unions’ efforts were launched as part of an initiative, sponsored by the White House and the Department of Energy, the Capstone Methane Stakeholder Roundtable, to help modernize the nation’s natural gas transmission and distribution systems and reduce methane emissions.

Testifying before the roundtable, International Representative Don Hartley, IBEW Utility Department, said: “The IBEW pledges to continue working with our utility industry partners to expand and enhance these training programs in order to respond to the industry’s focused emphasis on accelerated repair and replacement programs throughout the country.” The union also pledged to review that commitment on an annual basis.

Methane leaks, says Hartley, not only jeopardize the environment and public safety, but “the costs are passed on to the consumer.” While gas pipelines are overseen by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration of the Department of Transportation, says Hartley, there needs to be better coordination between that agency and the Environmental Protection Agency.

IBEW signatory employers are making major investments in upgrading natural gas pipelines.

National Grid is investing more than $1 billion in natural gas infrastructure this year and $6 billion over the next five years. Pacific Gas and Electric is deploying advanced leak detection technologies.

“The IBEW’s construction and maintenance and utility members are always ready to do our share to improve our nation’s aging infrastructure. We are pleased that the White House and the Department of Energy are reaching out to us for our ideas and cooperation,” says IBEW Utility Department Director Jim Hunter.


Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Kara Newhouse