By Dan Grossman
April 21, 2018
Founded by William Penn and the Society of Friends, Pennsylvania has a long and proud history of collaboration.
After all, the most difficult and important compromises that led to the foundation of our nation were hammered out in Philadelphia. The history of the Commonwealth is replete with examples of collaboration to solve vexing problems. Oil and gas should not be the exception.
My home state, Colorado, has somewhat less historical ties to collaboration.
After all, the Centennial State was settled by hardscrabble miners who were often quick to quarrel over the boundaries of mining claims and homesteads. Even today, the state is riven with divisions over water resources, residential development, and oil and gas.
But every once in a while, cooler heads prevail and Coloradans sit down at a table and work through differences in the name of compromise and the greater good.
In 2013, my Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) colleagues and I came together with Colorado's largest oil and gas operators to talk about methane emissions and ways to reduce them since methane is both a potent greenhouse gas and a valuable energy resource.
We negotiated a package of policy reforms, centered on required leak detection and repair, that would reduce methane emissions almost by half. In early 2014, with the help of Gov. John Hickenlooper, the first-in-the-nation methane rules were adopted.
Despite becoming home to the nation's most prolific natural gas production, and despite the millions of residents subjected to pollution from oil and gas operations, Pennsylvania has not enjoyed the kind of collaboration that worked so successfully out West.
Since Gov. Tom Wolf was elected, he has remained committed to reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, and his administration has made repeated offers to industry to help craft solutions. Unfortunately, those overtures were met with crickets. And then obstruction.
Industry trade associations like the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA), the main lobbyists for Pennsylvania's oil and gas industry, have no interest in constructive dialogue and collaboration.
Instead, they focus on sabotaging efforts at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and causing mischief in the legislature.
Most recently, industry lobbyists have been pushing legislation that would roll back certain oil and gas rules to where they were in 1984. You read that right -- 1984. The bill (HB2154), sponsored by Rep. Martin Causer, R-Cameron, is awaiting action n the House.
To his credit, Wolf has continued to push for methane regulation in the face of this obstruction and direct attacks from the MSC, PIOGA and their allies in Harrisburg.
Meanwhile, more and more Pennsylvanians are being subjected to pollution and disruption from oil and gas development.
Of course, residents of southwestern and northeastern Pennsylvania have been living with the detrimental impacts of the oil and gas industry for decades. Increasingly, those living in central and eastern Pennsylvania are experiencing these problems, too, as the development of the Marcellus Shale continues apace.
A recent analysis by EDF estimates methane emissions from oil and gas sites in Pennsylvania are nearly five times higher than what companies are reporting to the state - over 520,000 tons every year.
That is nearly $68 million of wasted gas and the near-term climate pollution equivalent of 11 coal-fired power plants.
Meanwhile, emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are also emitted with methane, are an estimated nine times higher than reported to DEP and include pollutants that are harmful to human health such as benzene, a known carcinogen.
In Colorado, the methane collaboration has proven to be a success for both the economy and the environment.
After four years of reducing methane emissions, the oil and gas business is booming. According to the Colorado Business Journal, the industry hit record-breaking oil production in 2017.
This spring, the Pennsylvania DEP is set to finalize general permits that will address air pollution from new sources of natural gas operations and begin consideration of regulations to cover existing infrastructure in the state.
Instead of undermining these efforts, MSC and PIOGA should take their cue from Colorado and engage, collaborate and demonstrate to all Pennsylvanians that they want to be good neighbors, not just calculating profiteers.
Dan Grossman is the senior director of state programs for oil and gas at the Environmental Defense Fund. He writes from Boulder, Colo.