Released February 15, 2018, a new analysis by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) finds methane emissions from Pennsylvanian’s oil and gas sites may be more than five times higher than what companies report to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and that emissions of volatile organic compounds may be 9 times higher. This report leaves no doubt: Pennsylvania’s problem with air pollution from the oil and gas industry is serious and it’s much worse than we thought.
Pennsylvania is the second largest natural gas producing state in the nation. While invisible to the human eye, methane pollution leaks at almost every stage of the oil and gas supply chain. Methane carries with it a range of other harmful pollutants that cause residents who live near gas operations, as well as downwind, asthma, heart and lung disease, threats to pregnancy and more. In addition to damaging the health of our communities, methane is a potent greenhouse gas with 86 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after its release into the atmosphere.
DEP publishes an annual emissions inventory of the oil and gas industry, measuring methane and the pollution leaked alongside it. This inventory relies on data self-reported by the industry. Inventory data is based on modeling and estimates, given the equipment at a particular facility, but it does not account for all sources. Even though the most recent year of inventory data (2015) shows that methane emissions continue to rise in Pennsylvania, the gas industry and its lawmaker allies continue to oppose commonsense methane standards.
EDF’s comprehensive analysis combines both top-down measurements across entire natural gas sites and equipment-level measurements to provide an accurate, detailed estimate of methane emissions in Pennsylvania. The report shows that conventional wells are actually responsible for even higher methane emissions than the unconventional sector. DEP’s inventory currently reflects only emission estimates from unconventional natural gas facilities, with no reporting required from conventional sources.
In addition to EDF’s analysis, an online toolkit was released that allows users to view oil and gas air pollution in their county, as well as information about nearby infrastructure. This critical information illustrates the impact of methane pollution on a local scale. Users can compare and model pollution control tactics based on real methane controls that other states have implemented to reduce pollution. The online toolkit’s simulations demonstrate the urgency for elected officials to get serious about protecting Pennsylvania’s air quality.
EDF’s analysis underscores the need for Governor Tom Wolf and the DEP to adopt commonsense methane pollution standards. With the Trump administration rolling back federal standards, now is the time for the governor to step up and reduce air pollution from the oil and gas industry. EDF’s analysis concludes that Pennsylvania can reduce 60% of industry’s methane emissions. Governor Wolf promised to control methane emissions from the oil and gas industry over three years ago. We cannot wait any longer. DEP must finalize and publish its new source methane permits without delay and then must immediately turn to addressing the crisis of existing source pollution.
To read the full EDF report and access the online toolkit, visit edf.org/PennsylvaniaMethane