Harrisburg Patriot News - Opinion
by Joseph Otis Minott, Esq.,
Executive Director and Chief Counsel of the Clean Air Council
February 5, 2017
While the eyes of a nation are on the unfolding of the Trump administration, our legislature in Pennsylvania is quietly doing the bidding of the natural gas industry as it seeks to preempt sensible protections from rampant air pollution resulting from natural gas development.
Make no mistake: The effects of this pollution affect all of us across the Commonwealth.
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Pennsylvania is the nation's second largest producer of natural gas.
While the surge in natural gas production has displaced coal for electricity generation and lowered the Commonwealth's emissions of carbon dioxide, its production and transmission to markets has increased the amount of methane - the primary constituent of natural gas - that's emitted into the atmosphere.
Combine these leaks of methane - which is 86 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time period - with the carbon dioxide emitted during combustion at power plants, and natural gas is not only looking bad for climate change, but potentially even worse for our climate than coal.
Just this week, it was reported that 2016 is now the hottest year on record. Record-breaking heat three years in a row is not a coincidence.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), in 2014 the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania emitted 115,000 tons of methane. DEP has said that estimate - based on industry self-reported engineering calculations, not actual measurements - could actually be many times higher.
Reducing methane leaks from the oil and gas sector, the largest source of methane pollution in the country, is an essential step in combatting climate change. It's critical that Pennsylvania take action on this issue, and as soon as possible.
Last January, Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled a four-point plan to sharply curtail methane emissions from natural gas production in the Commonwealth.
The plan is smart because it's based on effective measures that are already being used by industry-leading companies, or mandated by other gas-producing states.
A 2014 study by the highly-respected consulting firm ICF International found that by adopting available technologies and operating practices - the same kinds of measures that Wolf is proposing to require in Pennsylvania - the oil and gas industry could cut methane emissions by 40 percent at minimal cost.
ICF said those measures would cost just a little over a penny per 1,000 cubic feet of produced gas - even at today's depressed gas prices. ICF further noted that the most cost-effective methane reduction opportunities would actually save operators over $164 million after the costs of the measures were paid off.
ICF also found that deploying those cost-effective measures would save the U.S. economy and consumers over $100 million per year. And the adoption of some of those measures would also reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants that harm human health.
The adoption of these sensible, already-in-use measures - and, it's fair to say, the governor's proposed plan - would provide a high return on investment to industry, save consumers money, and protect public health.
So, the plan is reasonable - maybe even a no-brainer, right? Not according to some in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
Last week, a group of state senators put their names to legislation sponsored by Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Allegheny, seeking to prevent DEP from imposing any controls on methane emissions that are more stringent than federal requirements.
If all that's not bad enough, remember that the Trump administration has singled out federal regulations on methane emissions - as well as other environmental rules - for rollback or outright elimination. If the federal government won't act, the state must.
So, will the nation's second largest natural gas producing state take reasonable action to curb methane emissions, improve public health, save industry and consumers money, and protect the damaged global climate? Or will Pennsylvania deny climate reality and continue to allow climate-altering methane to leak away when it could be so easily and cheaply controlled?
It certainly seems like a no-brainer. But how Pennsylvania answers that question depends on all of us. The public must support these commonsense regulations and make their voices heard on this critical issue.