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I take issue with the op-ed in the Gazette-Mail on Dec. 17, 2021, by Sen. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, that the methane fee in the federal Build Back Better legislation is a tax on production and that the oil and gas industry is already subject to “robust” regulation by the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

I do agree with him that effective government regulation is necessary to control methane gas leaks.

The proposed fee, if it is a tax, is not a tax on production of natural gas. It is a fee/tax on leaking natural gas. If the industry would want to pay less of this fee/ tax, it could leak less methane. Nothing like pressure from shareholders to get things done.

While I agree with Nelson that effective government regulation is necessary to control methane gas leaks, I disagree that there is “robust” regulation of leaks now — in any way, shape or form. Scientists from Princeton and McGill universities have measured methane leaks from a sampling of 79 active conventional vertical gas wells in 13 north-central West Virginia counties. And 53% of those wells were leaking an average of 9 cubic feet of gas per hour.

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How can that be? West Virginia, a couple years ago, had only one inspector for every 3,500 oil and gas wells. Last legislative session, the Senate Finance Committee, of which Nelson is a member, cut the budget for our state’s Office of Oil and Gas. Now, we have one oil and gas inspector for every 5,000 wells.

When methane leaks, first of all, it is just plain wasteful. Also, if methane leaks before the meter, the leaks rip off mineral owners and state severance taxes. Also, I can tell you this from visiting friends’ rural property, leaks stink. Liquid leaks can leak out on the ground. And all this decreases surface owners’ property values. And, oh yes, it exacerbates climate change.

The methane fee is needed in Build Back Better, and so is truly robust leak enforcement by hiring more inspectors for the State.

David McMahon


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