The federal Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new rule this week that would regulate methane gas pollution in the oil and gas industry. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and the Obama administration wants to see emissions cut in half over the next decade.
The EPA reports methane gas is the “second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States by human activities.” While its lifespan in the atmosphere is shorter than other gases, the EPA says, “pound for pound, the comparative impact of methane on climate change is 25 times greater than carbon dioxide in a 100 year span.”
“Today, through our cost-effective proposed standards, we are underscoring our commitment to reducing the pollution fueling climate change and protecting public health while supporting responsible energy development, transparency and accountability,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
Environmental lawyer Harry Weiss explains that the proposed rule builds on regulations issued in 2012.
“This rule is meant to extend that regulation to the transmission of natural gas from the well to the interstate pipelines and to market,” Weiss said.
The new rule would only apply to new or modified natural gas wells. Officials estimate it would cost industry between three and five-hundred million dollars, with reduced health care costs and other benefits totaling around 500-million dollars.
As for the legality of the proposed rule?
“The Obama Administration is under order of the supreme court to regulate greenhouse gas emissions,” Weiss said. “That was case known as Massachusetts v. EPA.”
Weiss says litigation is likely after the rule is finalized later next year. He says some states may already have methane emission regulations in place. West Virginia is not among those states, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.
West Virginia’s senators in Washington, Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore-Capito, have both released statements saying they strongly disapprove of the rule. Both say the oil and gas industry will be unduly harmed.
U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) issued the following statement:
“This latest round of EPA regulations is unnecessary. Natural gas producers have cut methane emissions 38 percent since 2005, while increasing production 35 percent, through existing regulations and voluntary industry programs and innovation. EPA’s own data shows that methane emissions from natural gas drilling have gone down significantly over the last decade despite the rapid rise in production. Yet, the administration continues its crusade against fossil fuels regardless of its own data and the threat to jobs and affordable energy for American families. Natural gas is a large and vital part of West Virginia’s economy, especially with our coal industry under attack. However, these new methane mandates threaten to impede natural gas development and job growth in the Mountain State. I will continue working with my colleagues to rein in the administration’s unrelenting overreach and strike a balance between protecting our environment and allowing states like West Virginia to seize the opportunity of our vast natural gas resources.”
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) issued the following statement:
“More overreach from the EPA is the last thing we need right now. This Administration has already taken an ax to our coal jobs, and now it is targeting our thriving natural gas industry, which has already made significant progress in reducing methane emissions. By overregulating natural gas production, these unnecessary EPA regulations will raise costs, threaten jobs and make it difficult for us to move forward on a very promising resource. As I always have, I will continue to fight these harmful EPA rules and promote an all-of-the-above energy policy so that we can continue to develop our natural resources, achieve energy independence and save good-paying jobs.”
Corky DeMarco of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association told Metro News:
“The reduction of methane emissions that EPA put out today is just another assault on fossil fuel production. While natural gas production has increased by nearly 40 percent since 2007, this same industry has reduced methane emissions, without mandatory limits being imposed by over 35 percent.”
West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection hasn't issued an official statement in reaction to the rule, but officials confirm West Virginia doesn't have specific regulations for methane emissions. Spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater notes that, "part of the proposal establishes draft control technology guidelines for additional control measures for sites located in non-attainment areas. Also, in [West Virginia] state code 22-6 and 22-6a, there are provisions that prevent the waste of gas -- which we interpret to mean that the Office of Oil and Gas can require operators to fix leaking wells."