Leaking methane is harmful to children, the climate and the economy [column] | Local voices

Pennsylvania is the second largest producer of natural gas in the country. Natural gas heats our homes and cooks our food, but it also has a cost — a very high cost.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a very potent greenhouse gas that has a near-term warming potential far greater than that of carbon dioxide. Therefore, we need strong rules that limit methane pollution if we are to protect our residents and our communities.

Currently, methane is being released into the atmosphere unnecessarily from tens of thousands of small, leak-prone wells across Pennsylvania. It’s a waste of energy and natural resources when too many households are struggling with energy costs, and it happens because we don’t have the protections in place to ensure that oil and gas operators fix the faulty equipment and plug leaks.

Last fall, the Environmental Protection Agency released proposed safeguards to reduce methane and other harmful pollutants from oil and gas operations. This first proposal is a significant step forward and includes key measures, such as the phasing out of intentionally polluting equipment.

However, it omitted key actions needed, such as frequent inspections at the smaller, low-production wells that make up the vast majority of operating wells in Pennsylvania. It also omitted a necessary ban on routine venting and flaring.

EPA must work quickly to address these omissions in the supplemental proposal, which is expected this summer. Anything less is a missed opportunity to solve a huge problem.

Ozone or smog-forming volatile organic compounds, as well as toxic air pollutants, are released alongside methane at oil and gas well sites. It harms our families and communities by contributing to regional air quality problems, even in urban areas outside of development, and by exposing those closest to development to chemicals like benzene and toluene.

Pennsylvania already has some of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country. It also has high rates of heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among adults.

According to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air Report, Lancaster County gets a C for ozone or smog, while Philadelphia County gets an F. Ozone pollution can trigger asthma attacks and aggravate lung and heart conditions.

Reducing this pollution is also an opportunity to create new, well-paying jobs, including in Lancaster County, where there is a methane mitigation manufacturing center. These are the good jobs of the future.

Pennsylvania has a vital role to play in reducing methane and air pollution. According to a 2020 analysis, the Environmental Defense Fund concluded that oil and gas-related methane emissions in the state are more than 15 times higher than industry-reported data and total 1.1 million tons per year. year.

Further research has found that many wells in the Marcellus Shale that produce less than a barrel of oil per day are venting more than 100% of their reported gas production to the atmosphere.

Recently, a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Nature Communications found that low-production oil and gas wells are responsible for about half of the methane emitted from all well sites nationwide, while they represent only 6% of production.

This research further indicates that a large portion of emissions from small wells are due to maintenance and mechanical issues that could be avoided with additional inspections and monitoring. Many of these fixes would also pay off, as the gas these facilities emit into the atmosphere is worth around $700 million a year at 2019 prices.

In fact, these low-production wells waste enough gas each year to meet the heating and cooking needs of all residential consumers in Pennsylvania. Their waste is equivalent to driving more than 73 million passenger cars for a year.

Finally, the EPA’s proposal does not go far enough to address pollution from unlit flares and should ban the practice of routine flaring at oil and gas sites. When companies rush to extract oil and gas, some forego the investment needed to capture and sell the gas, and instead burn it as waste – a process that emits a host of climate- and health-damaging pollutants.

Capturing wasted methane from leaks, venting and flaring could deliver more than half of the gas the Biden administration has promised Europe in the shadow of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The EPA must ensure its final rule eliminates potential loopholes and covers more sources of methane pollution, including routine flaring and regular inspections of small, low-production wells with leak-prone equipment.

This would protect Pennsylvania communities from pollution, safeguard public health and promote energy security, while holding oil and gas companies accountable and taking real action to help the climate.

John Rutecki is Regulatory and Legislative Director, Appalachia, for the Environmental Defense Fund.