Corey Troiani, DFW Program Coordinator
Yesterday, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) paid Dallas City Hall a visit. During their all-day event they took public testimony on their newly proposed rules to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations.
EPA’s hearing in Dallas follows other recent proposals including the Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and another plan to reduce ozone and smog. All of these proposals are critically important for residents in North Texas since we have some of the worst air quality in the country, not far behind the Houston ship channel.
Methane gas is released from oil and gas drilling and transportation. In fact, about 30% of methane emissions in the US come directly from these operations. Methane is a concerning air pollutant for three main reasons, (1) it is almost always paired with other toxic chemicals when released, (2) it reacts with those other chemicals to produce ozone and smog, and (3) it is key greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Reducing methane emissions would kill all three birds with one stone.
Clean air advocates, including families, scientists, and businesspeople signed up for five-minute speaking slots to air their concerns over toxic emissions. An overwhelming majority of speakers, 106 out of 114, at the event supported the new rules and most advocated for significant improvements.
Many speakers commented on the lack of leadership from state agencies, the state environmental agency and Texas Railroad Commission, both responsible for regulating oil and gas in Texas.
“For years we tried to work with state government to try to protect Denton from fracking-related air pollution,” said Denton Drilling Awareness Group co-founder Cathy McMullen. She continued, “They refused to help us. Not only that, earlier this year the state stripped communities of our century-old rights to protect ourselves. Now EPA is our only hope to protect our health.”
Unfortunately, EPA’s new standards apply will only to new oil and gas operations across the country. All existing sites, including the estimated 17,000 in the North Texas region, will be exempt in unless modifications are made on those sites. The rules seek to reduce fugitive and designed emissions by 40-45% from wells, compressors stations, and pipelines. Fugitive emissions refer to leaked gas from pipes or other accidental leaks during operations; designed emissions refer to intentional mechanisms that release gas pressure to ensure safety, like condensate tank vents.
In some instances, like in the Eagle Ford Shale (south of San Antonio), operators are venting and flaring up to 30% of their natural gas. Why? Because they’re pretending natural gas is a waste by-product of crude oil. There is little profit motive in that region for companies to use that essential natural resource, so they just burn it off and refine the more expensive oil.
“I live in San Antonio downwind of the Eagle Ford Shale, and we’re struggling with high levels of smog linked to oil and gas,” said Krystal Henagan of Moms Clean Air Force whose son suffers from severe asthma. She continued, “By proposing these rules, the EPA is trying to protect families and clean up our air. We need to do more, but I’m grateful for this first step.”
Industry also sent some of their own people to the hearing. Including TXOGA (Texas Oil and Gas Association) and API (American Petroleum Institute) who claimed emissions reductions rules would do very little and have a negative impact on jobs. However, similar methane rules are already in place in Colorado and California and jobs have soared compared with Texas.
Texas Campaign for the Environment applauds the EPA for working on this new rule and has proposed these changes to make it as robust as possible:
- Existing oil and gas operations should not be exempted, but regulated as well.
- Inspections should be scheduled quarterly at minimum.
- Gas compressors located next to drilling sites should not be exempted from the rule.
- Non-emergency gas leaks should be fixed sooner than 6 months, we recommend 15-30 days.
- Public health benefits from cleaning up our air should be factored into the cost-benefit analysis.
The comment period will be open until November 17, 2015. You can submit testimony on the official public comment website.
You can read EPA’s full methane proposal here. It’s not exactly a light read. It looks more like a 600-page book pulled from Jack Kerouac’s typewriter, taped end-to-end with poor formatting and no table of contents. A lighter, more digestible summary report is available here.
Corey Troiani, DFW Program Coordinator