Industry trade groups – the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) and the Colorado Petroleum Association (CPA) – came out swinging against methane regulation in the third day of hearings on a groundbreaking proposal to reduce air and climate pollution coming from oil and gas operations.
And some wild swinging it was!
They acknowledged that we need to reduce methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. But they said studies are showing different results about how much methane is being leaked and vented and that we shouldn't regulate methane until we know exactly how much is escaping.
Yesterday, we covered the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) taking public testimony from citizens who traveled from around the state to speak in support of a groundbreaking proposal that would slash emissions of smog-forming pollutants and greenhouse gases coming from oil and gas activities.
Formal proceedings kicked off today – and will likely run through the weekend – with various parties presenting their opening cases. EDF went early in the day, providing strong evidence that the proposed rule is cost-effective and urgently needed to combat local air quality problems and climate change. We also highlighted some glaring flaws in the methodology industry opponents cooked up to show inflated costs for the rules.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), the Colorado Petroleum Association (CPA) and the DGS group are throwing everything they can at the rule to try to gut it. But they’re in a shrinking minority on the wrong side of history.
Colorado is the quintessential swing state – with voters split about evenly between Republicans, Democrats and Independents. That can make for some fractious politics at times, but our diversity is part of what makes us great.
What makes us even better is our unity – and that’s what we saw today when, by a margin of almost 10-to-1, Coloradans of all stripes called on the state’s Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) to adopt new rules that would slash air and climate pollution coming from oil and gas development activities.
The AQCC opened its hearings on the proposed rules with a full day of citizen input, with people traveling from around the state (one drove six hours) to make their voices heard. Residents from rural communities, including many from the Western Slope, stood up, one after another, to tell the AQCC Commissioners that the proposed rules should apply statewide and that the handful of local officials opposing the rules are out of step with the citizens they’re supposed to serve. In response to those local officials, one citizen from Ridgway implored the Commission to protect all Colorado families and not “turn the West Slope into an air quality sacrifice zone.”
EDF couldn’t agree more. Air quality in western parts of Colorado is trending in a bad direction, teetering on the edge of violating federal health standards. The state health department issued nine ozone advisories last winter for Western Slope counties where oil and gas development is prevalent, meaning the air wasn’t healthy for kids, the elderly, active adults and people with respiratory illness.
This commentary originally appeared on the EDF Voices Blog.
Mounting scientific evidence underscores the crucial importance of reducing methane emissions in the U.S. The latest study, published today in the journal Science, reviewed available data from the past 20 years and found that methane emissions from the U.S. natural gas supply chain are almost two times greater than current official estimates – flagging once again that methane emissions are a serious problem. However, the Stanford-led team also concluded that the current levels of methane leakage negates the climate benefit of switching to natural gas under some scenarios and not others, such as moving from coal-powered to natural gas electric generation.
As for what contributes to the higher than expected emissions, the study authors cited differing measurement techniques—including “bottom-up” direct measurement at the source, “top-down” readings from aircraft, and others—as well as the presence of “super-emitters” (a small number of sites or pieces of equipment producing a large share of emissions). Super-emitters are not easily sampled using most bottom-up direct measurement approaches. The team also spotlighted challenges associated with an increasingly ambiguous distinction between emissions from natural gas and oil production, both of which contribute methane to the atmosphere.
Business is booming right now for the American oil and gas industry, which has fueled economic growth in major oil and gas producing states, including Wyoming. But what will happen when the music stops? When the boom cools – as booms inevitably do – will states be left holding the bag?
Too often, that has been the pattern. A problem acutely illustrated by the issue of “orphan wells.” When oil and gas companies walk away from wells that are no longer producing oil or gas at economic levels, states (meaning, taxpayers) are typically the ones left responsible for addressing risks from these wells. Until old oil and gas wells are properly plugged and surface sites remediated, they pose contamination risks to groundwater supplies, as well as safety risks to landowners and wildlife.
Plugging and remediating wells can be expensive business, and when the bottom falls out on commodity prices it has been too easy for operators to declare bankruptcy and walk away – sticking taxpayers with the tab for plugging and remediation. It is imperative that states ensure they have the financial resources to address orphan wells and the ability to hold producers financially accountable when problems occur. Read More
This commentary originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.
This post was co-authored by Tomás Carbonell, EDF Attorney, and Brian Korpics, EDF Legal Fellow.
Source: Texas Tribune
Haze over Dallas Area
Last week, EDF took one more step toward protecting Texans from harmful levels of ozone pollution that have afflicted the state for far too long.
Ozone pollution, better known as “smog,” is one of the most severe and persistent public health problems affecting Texans. Smog causes a range of health issues — including aggravation of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, decreased lung function, increased hospital and emergency room visits for respiratory conditions — and it is associated with premature mortality in urban areas.
According to the American Lung Association (ALA), Dallas-Fort Worth is the eighth most affected area in the country for smog. ALA estimates the city is home to millions of people who are sensitive to ozone-related health problems — including 1.6 million people suffering cardiovascular disease; nearly 1.9 million children; nearly 650,000 elderly residents; and over 520,000 people with asthma.
EDF and its dedicated staff in Texas have long worked to protect Texans from unhealthy levels of smog by reducing the pollution that leads to harmful ozone levels. Most recently, we have been litigating in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to secure important Clean Air Act protections in all areas that are contributing to the serious ozone problems in Dallas-Fort Worth. Read More
This commentary originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.
The Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) put out the Open For Business sign today – a key milestone in this innovative effort to up the game on environmental protection in shale gas development. The question now is, will energy companies step up?
We hope so.
CSSD is an unprecedented collaboration – bringing together environmental groups, philanthropic organizations and energy companies to develop performance standards for reducing environmental impacts from shale gas production, and setting up a system so gas producers can have their operations audited and certified against those standards.
CSSD isn’t a substitute for effective regulation. Strong rules and robust oversight is a nonnegotiable bottom line. But we like the idea of upping the ante. Why not have a program that recognizes companies for going beyond the regulatory minimums and doing more to protect communities and the environment? These companies are tough competitors – so let’s make environmental performance part of what they compete on. Read More
Source: Angela Keck Law Offices LLC
By: Tomás Carbonell, EDF Attorney, and Brian Korpics, EDF Legal Fellow
A new year may be upon us, but – unfortunately – some members of the oil and gas industry would prefer we roll back the clock on common sense, long-overdue emission standards for oil and gas equipment.
Oil and natural gas production continues to expand rapidly in the United States – and with it the potential for emissions of climate-destabilizing pollutants (especially methane), smog-forming compounds and carcinogenic substances, such as benzene. We urgently need rigorous national standards that comprehensively address the full suite of pollutants from oil and gas facilities, protect public health and the environment and conserve needless waste of our nation’s natural resources.
In August 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a promising first step by issuing emission standards for new natural gas wells and other oil and gas equipment, including the thousands of large storage tanks built near gas wells, pipelines and processing facilities each and every year. These “New Source Performance Standards” (NSPS) were based on proven and highly-effective emission control technologies that leading companies have been using for years. Many of these control technologies also directly benefit a company’s bottom line by reducing avoidable waste of natural gas from vents and leaks – saving money while protecting our climate and air. Read More
Yesterday the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stood up for the traditional powers of local governments to decide where — and, to a significant extent, how — oil and gas development happens in their communities. In a 4-2 vote, the Court overturned Act 13, a 2012 state law that had stripped localities of some of their power to decide where the industry can operate. For example, Act 13 required that drilling, waste pits and pipelines be allowed in every zoning district, including residential districts, as long as certain buffers are observed.
That provision and others were challenged in a lawsuit filed by seven Pennsylvania localities. The suit was supported by an amicus brief written by lawyers at Earthjustice and signed by EDF and other environmental groups. We congratulate the local governments on this important victory and thank Earthjustice for its leadership.
This is a big win for local governments because it preserves their right to make sensible land use decisions that can impact quality of life. Home to the gas-rich Marcellus shale basin, Pennsylvania has emerged as the nation’s fastest-growing producer of natural gas and now ranks third in the nation, behind only Texas and Louisiana. Pennsylvania accounts for more than 10 percent of the nation’s total natural gas production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Alongside this spike in production, however, serious concerns about air and water quality in the region have also emerged. Read More
You may have seen news reports about a new methane emissions study conducted by climate researchers from Harvard and seven other institutions and just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The new paper provides an improved estimate of the total methane budget of the US – in other words, how much methane is being released into the atmosphere each year from all sources, including livestock and oil-and-gas production.
Based on analysis of nearly 5,000 air samples collected in 2007 and 2008 from ten communications towers located around the country, as well as 7,700 samples taken in those years from an aircraft monitoring program, the study finds that total methane emissions due to human activity were roughly 1.5 times greater at that time than previously estimated. Emissions from livestock were roughly twice as high as previous estimates. Emissions from oil-and-gas operations in Oklahoma and Texas were 2.7 times higher than estimated.
We are glad to see the methane issue getting the attention it deserves. While EDF's work to deepen our understanding of current emissions continues, there’s no question about the need for regulation to measure and reduce these emissions. In August, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado (UC) at Boulder published a long-awaited paper on methane leakage in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that reported an alarmingly high level of methane emissions in the Uintah Basin of Utah — 6.2 to 11.7 percent of total production for an area about 1,000 square miles. Read More