Melanie Houston, Drinking Water Director, August 25, 2015
Methane is the primary component of natural gas and comes packaged with other pollutants including VOCs and air toxics. VOCs are volatile organic compounds and they are the key ingredient in ground-level ozone, also known as smog. Smog has been linked to a variety of serious health problems including asthma attacks, increased respiratory problems and early death from respiratory and cardiovascular problems.
Methane also is a potent contributor to climate change, and therefore poses a risk for Ohioans today and tomorrow if not addressed. Methane is at least 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to disrupting our climate.
The rule in a nutshell
On August 18, 2015, the US EPA announced the first-ever federal methane pollution standards for the oil and gas industry. The EPA’s newly proposed methane standard will cover new and modified oil and gas drilling sites. It will require regular leak detection and repair at all wells and other oil and gas infrastructure.
The standard also will provide guidelines for reducing VOC emissions from existing oil and gas sources in areas with smog problems.
This standard will be a key means of reducing chronically leaky systems, and is expected to reduce methane pollution from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45% from 2012 levels by 2025.
Below are the top 4 ways this new rule will make Ohio a safer, better place to live.
1. Protects the health of Ohio’s Appalachian communities
First and foremost, the US EPA’s methane standard is about protecting Ohioans from smog and toxic air pollution from the growing fracking industry. Many studies have acknowledged that poor air quality may be the most significant risk to communities living near fracking operations. Methane leaks are also a recognized occupational hazard for workers.
Ohioans are especially at risk. 1.5 million Ohioans live in areas where ozone levels exceed national clean air standards—areas that also contain more than 8,500 oil and gas wells. Additionally, in Ohio our asthma rates are above the national average. Approximately 14% of children and adults in Ohio will suffer from asthma sometime over their lifetime. The southeastern parts of the state, the same areas where fracking operations are based, have the highest rates of asthma.
The proposed standard will have a dramatic and important effect for these citizens. A recent peer-reviewed study by the University of Cincinnati and Oregon State University found that places near active wells had unusually high levels of toxic air contaminants compared to other rural areas. The people breathing this air have an increased risk of developing cancer during their lifetime.
2. Improves worker and public safety
Reducing methane emissions from leaking pipes also will increase worker and public safety. Explosions tied to leaking pipelines have resulted in numerous fatalities across the country in recent years.
In Ohio, there have been several incidents involving explosions or fires on well sites. In October 2014, a pipeline explosion and fire in Monroe County seriously injured one of the workers. In December 2014, crews lost control of a fracking well and methane leaked uncontrollably for several days. This caused a major explosion risk for neighboring families.
Detecting and repairing leaky and faulty equipment is a common sense approach to addressing these serious threats to public safety.
3. Puts wasted energy to work fueling Ohio’s homes
In 2014 alone, oil and gas facilities in Ohio wasted approximately 13,000 metric tons of methane. This is enough natural gas to heat nearly 8,500 Ohio homes. This number also is likely an underestimate because only large oil and gas operations are required to report their emissions.
Given that the technology to detect and repair leaks of methane and VOCs is readily available and affordable, there really is no good counter-argument for industry to resist this common sense standard. According to a 2014 report by ICF International, emissions can be cut by 40 percent for just one penny on average per 1,000 cubic feet of gas produced.
4. Fights global warming
Methane pollution is a big part of global warming. Curbing methane pollution is critical because it is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after its release, and is already responsible for a quarter of human-made warming. According to the US EPA, “nearly 30% of those emissions come from oil production and the production, transmission and distribution of natural gas.”
If federal action isn’t taken, methane pollution from the oil and natural gas industry is projected to increase around 25% over the next ten years. Alternatively, going after achievable reductions would provide a significant climate benefit over the next 20 years – equivalent to eliminating carbon dioxide pollution from about 90 coal-fired power plants.
EPA is accepting comments on the rule and we need you to show your support. While this Administration can and should lay the groundwork for a strong standard to cover oil and gas existing sources, it will likely be up to the next Administration to implement those rules.
While no regulation can make fracking entirely safe, operators should not be allowed to continue bad practices that harm the health and risk the safety of our citizens in Ohio. Here are some easy ways you can take action to support the new methane and air pollution standard and protect the health of your fellow Ohioans:
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