By Candy Woodall
January 19, 2016
Hours after she and other concerned mothers protested at the State Capitol, Gretchen Dahlkemper got some welcome news.
Gov. Tom Wolf made good on a campaign promise and took steps Tuesday to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.
"We're thrilled the governor is moving forward, but we have yet to see exactly what the concept is," said Dahlkemper, a Philadelphia mom and national field director for the Moms Clean Air Force.
Further details of the new methane rules will be announced at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday during a webinar led by the Department of Environmental Protection.
It's an important move, Dahlkemper said, because methane exposure has led to higher rates of asthma attacks in children, blood cancers and preterm births.
What Wolf is really doing is implementing industry best practices, said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of PennFuture.
"Voluntary measures don't work. We need government to step in," he said.
By reducing methane emissions, he is improving environmental conditions in the state and minimizing some of the damage being done, Schweiger said.
And if the governor's Facebook page is any indication, people are concerned there's damage being done by oil and gas drilling.
"There's pretty overwhelming backlash statewide because the industry has been largely unregulated the way it's been deployed," Schweiger said.
Fewer methane emissions will be a positive change in a state where 4 million people live in areas that exceed the national clean air standards for ozone levels, according to the Clean Air Council.
"History has shown that the Pennsylvania gas industry can't be trusted to police itself; that's why regulating air pollution from oil and gas activity is so necessary," Joseph Otis Minott, executive director and chief counsel of Clean Air Council, said in a press release. "Strong rules that require operators to reduce air pollution leaks at both new and existing facilities will help spur the health benefits that Pennsylvania families deserve."
Drillers are already improving, regulators said. As technology advances, drillers are able to increase production with fewer emissions.
"It cannot be overstated that shale-related methane emissions continue to steeply drop as production sharply climbs," Dave Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said in a statement following Wolf's announcement.
"These positive results are a function of the industry's widespread use of operational best practices and continuous investments aimed at protecting and enhancing our environment," he said.
The American Petroleum Institute's Pennsylvania office said these practices have made the U.S. a world leader in reducing pollution.
"America is already leading the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Even as oil and natural gas production has risen dramatically, methane emissions have fallen, thanks to industry leadership and investment in new technologies," said Stephanie Catarino Wissman, executive director of API-PA.
She cautioned against duplicative regulations on oil and gas operations.
Wolf and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley said they support the industry and want Pennsylvania to continue to be the top energy exporter in the U.S.
"We welcome Governor Wolf's efforts to expand new manufacturing opportunities...through affordable home-grown natural gas and are committed to working with lawmakers as well as state officials to focus on common sense policies that encourage job-creating natural gas development, which has – according to EPA – helped drive down methane emissions 81 (percent) since 2012," Spigelmyer said.
The Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association declined comment.