People often think of the energy sector as a great place to find jobs, but some of the best, most stable job opportunities in the sector aren’t what you’d think. They’re not dedicated to resource production, but to minimizing the millions of tons of natural gas and associated pollution that leaks as the product is produced and delivered, wasting resources and causing a serious environmental problem.
Each year, more than 7 million tons of methane – the main component of natural gas and a powerful pollutant – escapes from oil and gas operations. These emissions pack the same short-term warming punch as pollution from 160 coal-fired power plants, and equal enough wasted natural gas to heat and cook meals for 5 million American homes.
Companies across the country are already harnessing the power of American innovation to solve this problem, creating new job opportunities in the process. And, a growing trend toward stronger state and federal safeguards to standardize methane reduction best practices is putting more wind in the sails of this growing industry.
Many of the positions being created are skilled, high-paying jobs for workers such as engineers and welders, according to a 2014 Datu Research report on the emerging methane mitigation industry. But these companies need a variety of other positions filled too, from sales to accounting to general labor.
Many of these companies have their roots in traditional equipment manufacturing, such as valves and sealing technologies that keep industrial systems running as efficiently as possible. Others, such as makers of optical gas imaging, are on the cutting edge of new technologies that allow users to identify methane leaks that are invisible to the naked eye.
American small businesses dominate this industry. Over 75 U.S. companies operate 500 different locations across 46 states. Most firms are located near major energy-producing areas in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Pennsylvania, helping the very communities where emissions reductions are most needed.
One example of a growing methane mitigation business is the family-run firm Heath Consultants, founded in 1933 to help natural gas companies find pipeline leaks by conducting vegetation surveys. Nearly 80 years later, this Houston-headquartered business has substantially grown, providing more than 1,200 manufacturing and service jobs nationwide.
There is high potential for more stories like this as energy companies and regulators continue taking steps to limit methane waste. In 2014, Colorado became the first state to require oil and gas operators to find and fix methane leaks. Other states like California, Ohio and Wyoming have all taken action on oil and gas air pollution. Proposed federal rules, which are currently out for public comment, will establish the first national methane standard and require all energy companies to limit their emissions.
A broad range of proven, low-cost technologies to reduce methane emissions are on the market today to achieve the reductions sought by policymakers, as established in a report by consultants at ICF International.
FLIR Systems, Inc. is one company that has seen an uptick in sales following Colorado’s implementation of methane controls. And this isn’t the first time this industry has seen the business impact of regulatory shifts. For example, the vapor recovery compressor market is currently one of the largest growth areas in energy equipment – sources for which EPA established air quality standards in 2012.
Energy companies have a number of good reasons to prevent methane emissions, from limiting their impact on air quality and the climate to preventing product loss and improving operational efficiency. The emerging methane mitigation industry stands ready to deliver these benefits, while simultaneously giving its own industry the boost it needs to thrive and create well-paying American jobs.
This article originally appeared on WashingtonPost.com.
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