Clean Air Council
May 12, 2016
Today, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its finalized air pollution standards for new and modified oil and gas facilities, marking an important step towards achieving President Obama’s goal of reducing methane pollution 40-45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. These new regulations will reduce leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is over 80 times more efficient at warming our climate as carbon dioxide over a 20 year time period.
Toxic air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are also leaked from oil and gas facilities alongside methane. These toxic pollutants include many known carcinogens and also contribute to forming smog, or ground-level ozone, which is linked to asthma and other respiratory diseases. In 2013, the oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania leaked over 120,000 metric tons of methane into the air, the equivalent CO2 pollution of burning 3.2 billion pounds of coal. EPA’s standards for new sources are projected to reduce 510,000 tons per year of methane pollution nationally by 2025 – the equivalent of about 11 coal-fired power plants – and result in $170 million dollars in net climate benefits in 2025.
Clean Air Council and other clean air advocates across Pennsylvania welcome EPA’s new methane standards which will have a positive impact on Pennsylvanians’ air and public health. The new standards include inspection requirements and standards designed to cut methane pollution. EPA’s announcement also includes a plan to collect information from oil and gas operators that will help the agency design future standards for existing sources.
Environmental groups have been calling for the EPA to act swiftly to write standards for existing oil and gas facilities and for Pennsylvania to propose and finalize its methane regulations for existing sources as quickly as the state process allows. According to a 2014 study, about 90 percent of oil and gas methane pollution in 2018 will come from existing sources built before 2012, and researchers recently found that leaks from existing sources are 34% worse than previously reported. In January, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania proposed an ambitious four point plan to reduce methane pollution from oil and gas operations in Pennsylvania. In March, the Obama Administration announced its intention to work on existing source regulations.
"I am very encouraged by the finalization of the EPA’s oil and gas industry standards, and I hope today's news will spur quick action to put in place standards for existing oil and gas facilities both nationally and here in Pennsylvania," said Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Executive Director and Chief Counsel of the Clean Air Council. "In order to fully protect public health and curb climate change we must now turn our attention to the transition away from fossil fuels entirely. However, regulations to reduce air pollution from new and existing oil and gas facilities will provide critical relief to Pennsylvania residents who have long been saddled with the burden of pollution from our nation's under-regulated oil and gas industry. In Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf and Secretary Quigley have publicly committed to developing best-in-the-nation standards to reduce methane pollution from the gas industry, and the public expects them to ensure that the proposal is as public health-protective as possible."
“Here in Lycoming County, we are all too familiar with the harm that air pollution from gas infrastructure brings to our communities,” said Barb Jarmoska, Treasurer of the Responsible Drilling Alliance. “I am glad to see EPA finalize its regulations for new oil and gas facilities. We will also need strong regulations for the existing gas facilities, including thousands of wells and hundreds of compressor stations, that have been leaking dangerous pollution into our air for years. Something must be done now, lest the burden of our shortsightedness be carried on the backs of our children and grandchildren.”
“We need regulations, testing, and enforcement to assure that the methane pollution from wells, pipelines, and processing facilities are reduced to the maximum extent possible in order to curb climate change and protect the health of northeast Pennsylvania communities and residents across the state who live near oil and gas infrastructure,” said Scott Cannon of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition. “While we need these critical regulations, moving to renewable energy right now is the only truly viable long-term option for our energy needs.”
“As a mother, I need to know that we are doing everything possible to reduce the dangerous pollution associated with unconventional natural gas extraction and its infrastructure,” said Michelle Obid of the Mars Parent Group. “These new standards are an important start, and now EPA and DEP must work quickly to provide more thorough protection for our children by addressing existing sources of methane emissions and supporting clean energy alternatives. Children are particularly vulnerable to environmental toxins, which is why our children need immediate protection from the hazardous pollution generated by natural gas extraction. Their health now and in the future depends on it.”