MJ Eckhouse, March 13, 2020
Columbus, OH — Earthworks and the Ohio Environmental Council recently recognized the two-year anniversary of the Belmont County Powhatan Point wellpad explosion with a call for federal action on methane rules.
The gas well—owned by XTO, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil—exploded on February 15, 2018 and continued leaking pollution into the air for nearly three weeks. More than 60,000 tons of methane were released into the atmosphere during this time, resulting in one of the largest-ever methane leaks in the country.
Residents up to a mile and a half away could see the initial explosion, which caused the evacuation of 36 homes and about 100 people. After the initial explosion, members of the Earthworks team utilized a specialized optical gas imaging camera to document the air and climate pollution from the broken wellhead. They found that the emissions extended hundreds of feet higher than what the naked eye could see, and traveled miles beyond the site and along adjacent ridges.
“The XTO blowout was the largest release of methane ever in the U.S., and an absolute climate disaster,” said Leann Leiter, Earthworks’ Ohio and Pennsylvania Field Advocate. “But Ohio’s oil and gas industry was contributing to the climate crisis before the Powhatan Point disaster and has added to it every day since. That’s why strong federal protections are critical, especially when state rules are lacking as in Ohio, and why we need to shift away from fossil fuels in favor of clean energy sources as soon as possible.”
In 2016, the Obama administration instituted the New Source Performance Standards for methane, which sought to regulate methane pollution from new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry by requiring leak inspections and repairs. This policy also triggered the obligation to extend methane inspections and repairs to the over 850,000 existing sources across the U.S.
Last year, however, the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler proposed to remove methane from the New Source Performance Standards and thereby eliminate federal methane regulation for all 900,000+ oil and gas sites across the country. This would remove federal protections to help prevent dangerous methane leaks and abandon the responsibility solely to states and voluntary company efforts.
“Events like the Powhatan Point wellpad explosion are rare, but very dangerous. Unfortunately, methane emissions from oil and gas operations are not rare,” said Miranda Leppla, vice president of energy policy for the Ohio Environmental Council. “It’s clear that deregulating federal standards to limit methane pollution poses a great risk to Ohio’s communities. As we await the EPA’s finalization of their detrimental methane rule, we continue to thank Senator Sherrod Brown for his leadership and call on Senator Rob Portman to support strong methane standard. Our health and climate depend on it.”
The Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) is the state’s most comprehensive, effective and respected environmental advocate for a healthier, more sustainable Ohio. The OEC develops and ensures the implementation of forward-thinking, science-based, pragmatic solutions to secure healthy air, land and water for all who call Ohio home. Learn more at theoec.org.
Earthworks is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the adverse impacts of mineral and energy development while promoting sustainable solutions. Learn more at earthworks.org.