Environmental Defense Fund Blog
By Andrew Williams
January 20, 2016
Pennsylvania leaders have a duty to protect Keystone residents from oil and gas pollution. Fortunately, Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection took an important step in that direction this week when they released a blueprint for cutting methane pollution from the natural gas industry.
“The goal here is to cover not only new sources of methane and VOC emissions [from oil and gas facilities], but also existing sources over time,” DEP Secretary John Quigley told hundreds of viewers during a live Facebook town hall event yesterday. “We want to have a comprehensive emissions program that is nation-leading. I think it’s the strongest set of provisions in the country, and I think the number two natural gas producing state in the nation should have the best regulations. That’s what we’re going to have in Pennsylvania.”
That’s a bold and laudable commitment – one that deserves our support to help make sure the promise becomes reality.
As the second largest gas-producing state in the nation, it’s critical that we get the rules right in Pennsylvania. In 2014 alone, Pennsylvania operators produced more than 4 trillion cubic feet of gas. That amount of production comes with an environmental cost that cannot be ignored.
Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a highly potent climate pollutant responsible for about a quarter of the global warming we are experiencing right now. Methane leaks are ubiquitous up and down the natural gas supply chain. They result from both intentional venting and accidental leaks that come from poorly maintained equipment and sloppy field performance.
The ongoing disaster at the natural gas storage facility in Aliso Canyon, California puts a painful spotlight on the need for strong rules and vigilant oversight. It also highlights the fact that emissions are probably much greater than we realize. Traditional emission estimates often fail to capture big leaks in their numbers, so industry-reported data very likely underestimate methane emissions by a wide margin.
Leaking methane also allows smog-forming volatile organic compounds and other toxic air pollutants to escape – increasing the risk of real health impacts to local communities. So, eliminating methane emissions is a win-win, helping reduce the climate impacts from natural gas and protecting communities from health-damaging pollution.
A key feature of Governor Wolf’s announcement is the commitment to regulate natural gas operations that are already up and running today – not just new facilities that will be built in the future. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed rules to regulate emissions from future operations, and that’s an important first step. But it won’t address emissions from the thousands of well sites, compressor stations, pipelines and other natural gas facilities that Keystone residents are living with every day.
The EPA needs to put a national framework in place for both new and existing sources of methane so all citizens are protected from harmful emissions – no matter where they live. But Pennsylvanians shouldn’t have to wait. That’s why action from the Wolf administration is so important.
Pennsylvania is also in a position to help shape a national framework for regulating methane emissions. At EDF, we have long supported state leadership and have encouraged the EPA to look to pioneering states like Colorado– and now Pennsylvania – as models for regulating methane.
Governor Wolf’s proposal is just the beginning of the process in Pennsylvania. Now, it is up to the Department of Environmental Protection to propose, finalize and implement actual regulations as soon as possible. EDF is committed to working with the administration and other stakeholders to ensure Pennsylvania meets its commitment to adopting the strongest and most protective methane regulations in the country.