The nature of government is to grow, but perhaps only sometimes learning in the process.

Isn’t what is described in this article from the Washington Post just one more example of the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of similar occurrences that together make up the largest portion of the history of our country (the growth of government as the fixer of last resort), and probably by themselves alone account for the bulk of the size and growth of the federal government?

From the Post article I read that much of the methane-rich gas in a hydrocarbon-soaked region of New Mexico known as the San Juan Basin, a land once home to a flourishing civilization of ancient Pueblo Indians, never makes it to market. Companies there for the oil will burn off some of the gas but much of it will leak into the atmosphere.

Methane, of course, is a powerful greenhouse gas — with up to 80 times as much heat-trapping potency per pound as carbon dioxide over the short term. And even the gas that is trapped and burned is converted into carbon dioxide — another greenhouse gas — while contributing to the brown haze that sometimes blankets the entire region on sunny days.

What to do, in this instance as in so many others, when the perpetrators are doing nothing themselves? The federal government once again will respond, for that’s where the buck stops, growing a bit in size (if not in stature) as it does so.

In this instance the Obama administration is reviewing a host of possible remedies that range from voluntary inducements to more costly regulations requiring oil and gas companies to install monitoring equipment and take steps to control the loss of methane at each point in the production process.

gas plume
An oil well flares excess methane in the desert east of Farmington, N.M. Some oil companies release methane through flaring or venting rather than capturing the gas for selling. (Michael Eisenfeld)

End of story —more government, more government regulation? Well yes, probably, but not yet, for the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade association for the oil and gas industry, contends that companies are already making progress in slashing methane waste, installing updated equipment that reduces leaks, and says that new regulations are not only unnecessary but would ultimately make it harder for U.S. companies to compete.

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