Four Reasons We Can’t Wait to Plug the Leaks

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Today, over 12 million Americans live within one-half mile of oil and gas operations. These facilities are located where people work and recreate, and where children go to school. While the administration has taken critical initial steps to limit pollution from some of these operations, their efforts to date don’t get the job done: Approximately 75 percent of today’s oil and gas operations still do not face any federal requirements to limit their emissions of harmful methane and toxic air pollution.

It’s great to see growing national and international interest being brought to an issue that was deserving of attention many years ago. But we need to move faster to rein in this problem.

Why the urgency? Here are four reasons:

  1. Americans across the country are seeing the impact of an uncontrolled oil and gas industry on their air quality.

When oil and gas operators intentionally vent methane or leak it from faulty equipment or poor practices, they are simultaneously releasing harmful smog-forming pollutants than exacerbate asthma and other respiratory problems, and toxic, cancer-causing pollutants like benzene.

And let’s face it: clean air protections have not kept pace with the explosive expansion of oil and gas drilling in the U.S. over the past decade.

The American Lung Association’s (ALA) annual State of the Air report confirms this. Over 40 counties with significant oil and gas operations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, and other energy producing states received a ‘D’ or ‘F’ grade for high-smog days. What’s more, over two dozen counties got a worse grade this year than last year, moving backward at a time when industry claims to be making progress.

If my child’s grades got worse from one year to the next and I did nothing, I’d be an irresponsible steward. The same applies to the federal government, whose job it is to provide clean air protections to all communities.

ALA’s 2016 report coincided with the release of the National Climate Assessment which predicts that a warming climate will further exacerbate air quality and health impacts of smog pollution.

  1. Methane emissions are vastly higher than we thought

EPA’s 2014 greenhouse gas inventory found that we have been significantly underestimating oil and gas methane emissions. The updated inventory estimates that oil and gas operations release 9.8 million metric tons of methane pollution every year — 34% more than previously estimated. These emissions have the same short-term climate impact as over 200 coal-fired power plants, or driving over two-thirds of all of the cars in the U.S. for a year.

With every year of delay we are releasing an astounding amount of methane pollution, leaving millions of Americans without the clean air protections they deserve.

  1. Climate and clean air protections must keep pace with the oil and gas industry

According to a an Energy Information Agency analysis, a staggering amount of energy production came online over the last five years: 48% of oil production in 2015 came from wells drilled within the previous two years.eia graphic

While a new well doesn’t guarantee methane emissions, a new study reinforces that methane leaks, especially ‘super-emitters’ — disproportionately large, unpredictable emissions – can happen anytime, anywhere, from both new and old oil and gas equipment.

Not surprisingly, nearly four dozen counties that received poor or failing grades (C, D, or F) from the American Lung Association are also home to these new oil and gas wells. Proper oversight and environmental standards have just not kept pace with the nation’s expanding energy infrastructure.

  1. Methane pollution is contributing to an ever-unstable climate.

Every day there is more sobering news about the changes scientists are observing due to a warming climate.

As the evidence mounts, it’s clear we are reaching a tipping point: coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef; polar bears experiencing increasing stresses as sea ice vanishes; coastal communities facing recurring flooding, and insect borne diseases threatening our families and even our pets.

All of these data points demonstrate we don’t have the luxury of time, especially not with delaying action on potent pollutants like methane that are responsible for 25% of the warming that we’re experiencing today.

The oil and gas boom that this country has enjoyed comes with big environmental consequences. It’s time to fix this problem.

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One Comment

  1. Bob Meinetz
    Posted April 29, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Felice, we need to plug more than the “leaks”. We need to plug the holes in the earth – the ones leaking a steady stream of pre-Anthropocene carbon, drilled by eager entrepreneurs unmindful of the impact their actions are having on climate.

    It’s possible, but only by embracing nuclear power. EDF no longer dares to oppose nuclear, instead taking the same “neutral” position one might have in choosing between vanilla or chocolate for a milkshake. What up with that?

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