Keep methane emissions standards, environmentalists urge

The Ohio Environmental Council is campaigning to maintain federal methane emissions standards pertaining to the oil and gas industry as they stand today, because it says methane emissions are major contributors to air pollution and climate change.

At issue is potential relaxation by Congress of a U.S. Bureau of Land Management standard concerning activities on federal public lands, upon which the U.S. Senate may vote this week, said Melanie Houston, the Columbus-based council’s oil and gas director.

Also at issue is a recent statement by Scott Pruitt, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, that his agency will reconsider its methane standard that applies to new and modified facilities on private lands.

Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas.

“When methane is released, there are other harmful pollutants that come out alongside it, and these can lead to serious health problems,” including asthma attacks, chronic respiratory ailments and heart ailments, Houston said.

Some 3.1 million Ohioans live within a half mile of oil and gas facilities, she said.

Annually, in Mahoning County, some 500 asthma attacks occur in children and nearly 400 school days are lost due to oil- and gas-industry-related air pollution, she said.

Houston was among several OEC representatives who met Wednesday with The Vindicator’s editorial board.

In addition to its adverse environmental consequences, the release of methane through leaks and flaring of the gas is a waste of energy resources, Houston said.

The federal standards “make sense from both an economic and a public health perspective,” she said.

Methane emissions occur in the production, processing, transmission and distribution of natural gas, she said.

“If we do not have regulations, and if we do not make these up-front investments, what’s going to keep companies from continuing to put the almighty dollar ahead of the people?” asked Laura Burns, Ohio organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, who appeared with the OEC representatives.

“This is good-neighbor, long-term thinking about our communities,” Burns, of Mansfield, said of the reasoning behind the methane emissions standards.

However, Howard Feldman, senior director for regulatory and scientific affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, called the U.S. EPA’s standard “a solution in search of a problem.”

He said methane emissions from the natural-gas industry have fallen 18.6 percent as production has increased 50 percent between 1990 and 2015.

Feldman concluded: “We welcome this action [the U.S. EPA standard review] and look forward to working with the administration and Congress on forward-looking policies that recognize our industry as part of the solution to U.S, economic, environmental and national security goals.”

Date Published: 

Monday, May 1, 2017