The Clean Water Blog

Methane flare, black smoke. Photo credit: Leonid Ikan / Shutterstock

A Good Day for Public Health and the Climate

Today is a good day for public health and the climate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the first-ever national limits on dangerous methane pollution spewed by the oil and gas industry. These protections cover new and modified sources. That means new drill sites, pipelines, compressor stations, and more will release less methane which is better for the health of our families and the fight against climate change.

This is huge because oil and gas companies have been allowed to release millions of tons of methane pollution into the air for way too long. They have had little regard for the health of local communities and long term stability of our climate, but that starts to end today. This announcement is one of the Obama Administration’s most important steps toward protecting Americans from the impacts of oil and gas production.

The new rules are projected to cut 510,000 metric tons of methane pollution annually – the equivalent of 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, worth an estimated $690 million in climate benefits every year.  EPA estimates that the rules will also result in an annual reduction of 210,000 tons of smog forming volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and 3,900 tons of air-toxics.

These standards will have real and immediate local impacts for communities living in the shadow of oil and gas development.

Take Pennsylvania, for example. The state is the second largest producer of natural gas in the nation which makes it responsible for a roughly 1% of global human-caused climate changing pollution. Despite this Pennsylvania has relied on the gas industry to police itself - voluntarily looking for and fixing leaks.  Predictably, this  has been a complete failure. That changes now. These new limits are vital to not only to controlling methane from future sources in general but toward filling in missing regulatory gaps that currently exist in Pennsylvania.

Or, let's look at Texas. Texans suffer more pollution, and all of the health impacts that come along, from these emissions than any other state. The state wasn't going to do anything about it - state officials have refused to protect communities' health from these harmful emissions. Texas needed EPA to act and it did.

So, we're happy. We applaud the Administration for a strong first step, but the work is not done. We have to tackle methane pollution from existing oil and gas facilities. These protections will make a big difference for communities, but the Obama administration must close the gap and make the facilities that are already impacting our neighborhoods and climate reduce their pollution. Requiring proven cost-effective technology to reduce methane emissions from existing sources is critical in order to address health and climate impacts of methane pollution and keep us on the path to make a serious dent in climate change.