More than 150 people representing the gas drilling industry, environmental organizations, faith and community groups or just themselves signed up to speak today in Downtown Pittsburgh at the third and final U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hearing on regulations proposed to reduce oil and gas industry emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
The proposed federal rules to reduce emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds are part of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, which seeks to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025.
Environmentalists and community groups generally favored the federal rules as a good first step, although some, like J. Stephen Cleghorn, a Jefferson County farmer, said they were “too little and too late.”
“Ten years out for industry to comply? We can’t continue to move at a snail’s pace with climate change bearing down on us,” Mr. Cleghorn said. “We should be implementing rules on existing infrastructure, where 90 percent of the leaks are occurring, now.”
The rules, proposed in mid-August, would require the industry to find and repair leaks, capture emissions from wells, limit emissions from compressor stations and reduce leaks from pipelines. In addition, the proposal contains guidelines for states to reduce emissions from volatile organic compounds and and methane from existing wells in ozone non-attainment areas, like southwestern Pennsylvania, and in mid-Atlantic and Eastern states that are part of the Ozone Transport Region, as Pennsylvania is.
Lisa Graves Marcucci, a field organizer for the Environmental Integrity Project, said the federal regulations are needed to support state regulation, which is sometimes lax or non-existent.
“We need a floor because, sadly, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is understaffed and flooded with permitting requests,” Ms. Marcucci said. “In the absence of federal regulations, the state sometimes makes decisions that are not in the best interests of the people in the commonwealth.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the oil and gas industry estimated that more than 7.3 million metric tons of methane leaked from the nation’s drilling sites into the atmosphere in 2013, costing the industry $1.8 billion a year in lost revenues.
Pennsylvania, which relies on an EPA-approved 23-year-old formula that likely underestimates methane leaks from gas wells, reported that shale gas wells leaked 9, 681 tons of the potent greenhouse gas in 2013, a 41 percent increase over the previous year. The increase isn’t an actual measurement, but reflects the greater number of shale gas wells operating in the state.
But while fugitive emissions of methane increased, overall methane emissions decreased by 13 percent, a statistic the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Pennsylvania trade association representing 250 industry members, cited in testimony opposing what it termed “unreasonable, costly and unnecessary additional federal standards.”
“We urge the U.S. EPA to recognize successful and functioning state regulatory programs and existing industry practices that have already substantially reduced methane emissions, and allow them to continue without interruption or added complication from superfluous federal regulation,” Eric Cowden, the coalition’s community outreach manager, said in testimony.
Shortly before noon on Tuesday, proponents of the federal methane regulations held a rally in the Westin Convention Center Hotel and marched across Penn Avenue to the hearing rooms in the William S. Moorhead Federal Building, where, during the testimony of Justin Wasser of the Sierra Club, they delivered more than 120 11-by-17-inch postcards to the EPA hearing panel.
Mr. Wasser said the postcards thanked the EPA for proposing stricter methane emissions controls and urged Pennsylvania’s Democratic Sen. Robert Casey to be a strong advocate for the new rules.
The EPA held its first two hearings on the methane gas regulations in Dallas and Denver on Sept. 23.
Don Hopey: 412-263- 1983, email@example.com or on Twitter @donhopey.