By Don Hopey
April 23, 2019
State Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearings are generally dry affairs about policy proposals, but not Tuesday morning.
At the Teamster Temple in Lawrenceville, two Washington County residents provided tearful testimony about devastating health and property problems they blamed on unregulated and uncontrolled emissions of methane gas from dozens of wells near their homes and a campus in the Fort Cherry School District.
Jane Worthington, a nurse from Robinson Township who previously lived in Mount Pleasant Township, told the panel exposure to exceedingly high shale gas well emissions caused her 15-year-old daughter, Lexy, to develop headaches, nosebleeds, vomiting and a neurological disorder that temporarily paralyzed one leg and blinded her.
“She’ll never be the same,” Ms. Worthington said. “She’s moving to a new school because I can’t continue to send her to that environment. That school district is full of sick children. ... When I hear industry say it can’t afford methane controls, well, we can’t afford not to have them. We need methane regulations now. You have to hear what I’m saying.”
The hearing is the second the policy committee has conducted on the state’s response to climate change in the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord and suspend commitments to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, which many scientists say are causing the climate to warm.
Last November, the committee met in Pittsburgh to hear testimony about limiting carbon emissions, primarily from fossil fuel combustion.
State Sen. Lisa Boscola, D- Lehigh/Northampton, the committee chair, said methane is 86 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. She noted that a state Department of Environmental Protection proposal to reduce methane would only capture 21 percent of the fugitive emissions.
“That would leave Pennsylvania with one of the least protective methane rules in the nation,” she said.
Andrew Williams, Environmental Defense Fund director for regulatory and legislative affairs, said the DEP proposal is disappointing and falls short because it doesn’t cover low producing wells, omits capture of volatile organic compounds, and doesn’t contain a strong leak detection and repair provision.
He said at least five other natural gas producing states — Colorado, Wyoming, California, Utah and North Dakota — have methane emission control rules stronger than the DEP proposal.
“There are effective ways to curb methane gas emissions in a reasonable way for the industry,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s estimated that the industry could reduce emissions by 50 percent at zero net cost.”
Jared Metcalf, U.S. operations manager for Target Emissions Services, a private company that does leak detection work for the oil and gas industry, said wells in Pennsylvania leak approximately 115,000 tons of methane a year, enough to heat 49,000 homes.
He said leak detection for the oil and gas industry is a growing opportunity for businesses and a state regulation requiring leak detection and repair would be good for the local economy.
“Methane reduction legislation would cause a chain reaction for job creation,” he said. “We would hire 10 new technicians to meet the needs of our clients.”
Dale Tiberie, who lives in Scenery Hill, Washington County, tearfully testified that “pungent odors” from a well pad next to his 4-acre property often make him lightheaded and nauseous, and high pressure gas pipelines nearby make him fearful of a disastrous accident.
He invited Earthworks, an environmental organization, to document the odor problems, and at the hearing he exhibited for the senators infrared video showing plumes of methane, propane and other volatile organic compounds billowing from storage tanks on the well pad.
“We need these regulatory controls now, not 10 years from now,” Mr. Tiberie said.
Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, said new regulation to reduce methane leaks is needed, as is stepped up enforcement and adequate funding for DEP regulators. He said the committee could hold a third hearing to listen to health care professionals about climate change impacts.
“We are in favor of jobs, but the environment has to be safe,” Mr. Fontana said. “Even though Democrats are in the minority in the Legislature, they can put a focus on this issue, and bring awareness to the whole Senate.”
Other Democratic senators attending the hearing, which attracted approximately 30 people, were Jay Costa of Forest Hills, Lindsey Williams of West View, and Jim Brewster of McKeesport.