[UPDATE: After releasing this statement, 14 states filed a lawsuit against the EPA and Gina McCarthy over the methane new source rule, calling it “in excess of the agency’s statutory
authority and otherwise is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and not in
accordance with law.” We disagree — reducing air pollution is precisely the purpose of the Clean Air Act, on which this rule is based. Furthermore, technologies to reduce methane pollution are readily available, inexpensive, and create jobs — the opposite of what the West Virginia Attorney General’s office claims in its press release about the court case. We’re disappointed allies of the oil and gas industry are again attacking clean air and public health, but we’re not surprised.]
As the faction of climate deniers dwindles, pockets of opposition to climate action persist in the oil and gas patch. Today marks the deadline to file opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s new source standard for methane (natural gas) pollution, and on Friday the state of Texas joined North Dakota in a legal challenge to the rules.
A clear consensus among scientists identifies methane—especially dangerous in the near term—as the second-most damaging climate pollutant after carbon dioxide. The oil and gas industry is the largest source of methane pollution in the U.S., and wastes $227 million in natural gas each year just on federal lands. The oil and gas industry could reduce methane waste by almost half using existing technologies and best practices for just one penny per thousand cubic feet of gas.
The federal government is leading efforts to tackle climate pollution. Its first action is enacting an EPA rule to reduce methane emissions from newly constructed sources in the oil and gas industry. This rule is part of a suite of complementary actions that include a pending Bureau of Land Management rule focusing on federal and tribal lands, where 10.4 percent of oil and 13.5 percent of gas is produced annually, concentrated in Western states. EPA also has begun a process to regulate methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources which currently contribute about 90 percent of methane pollution from the industry.
Ironically, methane rules are particularly important in North Dakota and Texas. In North Dakota, a modern “gold rush” for shale oil has resulted in developers drilling tens of thousands of wells in the past few years. In its quest for oil, the industry treats methane as a waste product, releasing it directly into the atmosphere or burning it off, unused. Satellite images show the wide open spaces of North Dakota as bright as Minneapolis or Denver due to methane flaring.
In Texas, where oil development has been underway for over a century, old equipment is especially prone to venting and leaking methane. It is not surprising that these states, among those with the most work to be done to solve this problem, would seek to duck this responsibility.
“WELC is encouraged that only two states beholden to the oil and gas industry have challenged this critical EPA rule,” said Thomas Singer, Ph.D. senior policy advisor at the Western Environmental Law Center. “Reducing methane is our very best tool to take near-term action to fight climate pollution and we fully support federal rules to curb this pollution nationwide.”
Read more about WELC’s decade of work toward common-sense methane controls here.