What happens when a massive amount of methane leaks from a natural gas facility in less than two hours? In Pennsylvania- nothing

On September 2, 2017, DTE Energy’s Harmony compressor station in Susquehanna County, PA malfunctioned, and released twice the amount of methane that is normally released from this type of facility over the course of a year. In less than two hours, over 200 tons of methane was released into the atmosphere. According to the DEP’s emissions inventory, the average compressor station releases 97.5 tons of methane a year.  

What happened next? Nothing.

DTE did not notify the Susquehanna Co. Emergency Management Agency because they didn’t deem it an “imminent and substantial danger to public health and safety.” Because this leak didn’t lead to an explosion or any deaths - it went largely unnoticed, but DTE’s judgment about whether this incident posed an imminent danger to health and safety was wrong and dangerous. To make matters worse, no surrounding residents or government agencies were notified of the incident or any precautions to take. 

Read enough? Take action and tell Governor Tom Wolf to keep his promise to the people of Pennsylvania and move immediately to enact standards that will cut harmful methane pollution. 

 

Harmony Compressor Station under standard operating conditions. Imagine what the facility looked like while leaking 200 tons of methane in less than two hours.

Pennsylvania has a problem. This is just one example of a leak that was uncovered after-the-fact by an investigative journalist. Similar incidents are experienced by residents on a regular basis across the state, however many are likely not properly reported by witnesses or the industry. The question is, how many other large leaks are happening across the state right now? The only way to know is to have the industry check for leaks, and immediately fix them. That’s why Governor Tom Wolf must move forward on his proposed commonsense methane protections that will reduce leaks and protect the health and safety of Pennsylvanians. Included in the Governor’s plan to reduce methane are quarterly leak detection and repair requirements that will reduce waste and identify malfunctions that lead to significant methane leaks. Unfortunately, the Governor and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection have not yet put these protective measures in place, despite announcing them over one and a half years ago.

Approximately 1.5 million Pennsylvania residents live within a ½ mile of active oil and gas facilities. How many leaks could be occurring at this moment and putting nearly one-tenth of Pennsylvania’s population in danger?

Two hundred tons of methane emitted in such a short time period has major consequences for health, and safety and should not be ignored. First, this leak created an enormous potential for a deadly explosion. If the undetected leaked methane came in contact with a nearby resident’s lit cigarette or a cell phone spark, there may have been very dire consequences. Second, methane, and the other pollutants that leak alongside it, have serious and even fatal health impacts. Short-term exposure to hazardous air pollutants can cause headaches, eye irritation, nosebleeds and coughing. Long-term exposure can lead to aggravated bronchitis, emphysema, asthma and even cancer. In addition, pollutants leaked alongside methane can form smog, which can trigger asthma attacks, and worsen respiratory and cardiac disease. Finally, methane is a highly potent climate-warming gas - 86 times more powerful in the short term than CO2.

Even more disturbing is the false claim that industry can police itself. This incident is a clear example of how that is simply untrue. Industry cannot be trusted to reduce methane leaks or properly report incidents when they occur. Operators like DTE frequently under-report harmful emissions. Why would they be compelled to put public safety and environmental protection first? At a time when some Pennsylvania lawmakers are attempting to erode important environmental protections, Governor Wolf and DEP must complete the proposed plan to reduce methane leaks from the natural gas industry. Industry must be held accountable and cannot be allowed to vent large, dangerous quantities of natural gas into the air we breathe.

Tell Governor Wolf that he needs to honor the commitment he made more than a year and a half ago - and put protections in place for Pennsylvania's natural gas infrastructure now.

 


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