EPA Proposes First Methane Cuts for Fracking Industry as Part of Obama's Climate Efforts
Today, the Obama administration released its proposed rule to limit air pollution from fracking and other oil and gas operations. The Methane Pollution Standard is the first limits on methane emissions from new and modified facilities including well pads, compressor station, storage facilities and other infrastructure.
At Earthworks we have witnessed the impacts of air pollution from oil and gas drilling for decades. But, it was only when we purchased our FLIR Gasfinder camera a year ago that we were able to see firsthand the methane and volatile organic compounds spewing from nearly every oil and gas site we visited. It was scary for us to see and it is even scarier for communities to live with.
Our FLIR camera exposes otherwise invisible air pollution from fracking. Photo credit: Earthworks
These Clean Air Act rules come at a time when the rush to drill has scarred our landscapes and the hearts of families whose children are suffering from environment-induced asthma, nosebleeds and headaches. Fracking and the web of infrastructure that comes with it, has reached its spidery fingers into our most vulnerable neighborhoods, far beyond the point of extraction. The oil and gas industry has left no stone unturned and neither can we.
Better regulations to rein in this out-of-control industry are one tool in our toolbox to help reduce the harm of fracking across the country. These rules will make a difference for people from California to Texas to Ohio and Pennsylvania who are faced with oil and gas knocking on their front door.
The rules address threats to our air, our planet and our common sense:
- Fracking and related activity is bad for our climate. President Obama likes to talk about reducing our carbon footprint, but CO2 is only one of many greenhouse gases that worsen the impacts of climate change. Methane, the gas specifically targeted by this rule, is 86x worse for climate than CO2, but it gets about 86x less attention. This rule can change that.
- Oil and gas operations pollute our communities with health-harming chemicals like Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), benzene, a known carcinogen and ozone, which is hazardous to human health and can cause premature death. Exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas, found in many shale oil and gas formations, can cause difficulty breathing and eye and throat irritation. High levels of exposure can be fatal. These harmful air toxins often “hitchhike” along with methane pollution, allowing this new rule to capture a whole host of pollutants.
- And finally, allowing these chemicals to pollute our air wasteful. Methane, by another name, is natural gas. Yes, the exact thing that we are trying to produce more of is what we are recklessly releasing into the air and allowing to pollution our communities. By plugging the leaks we will stop our natural resources from becoming polluting waste.
But the rule falls short. It only covers new facilities, leaving people who have already signed leases, already grown their families in areas infiltrated by industry, in danger. We cannot afford to turn down any solutions, but we also cannot afford to stop fighting for comprehensive solutions that protect everyone.
And that’s the elephant in the room. In order to protect our clean air for the long haul, we must expedite the transition to renewable energy—today. We have the solutions, it’s time our leaders in Washington take decisive action to realize the renewable energy future we need now.
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Climate Week this year coincides with clear skies in Washington state for the first time in almost two weeks.
In just a few days in early September, Washington state saw enough acres burned – more than 600,000 – to reach our second-worst fire season on record. Our worst fire season came only five years ago. Wildfires aren't new to the west, but their scope and danger today is unlike anything firefighters have seen. People up and down the West Coast – young and old, in rural areas and in cities – were choking on smoke for days on end, trapped in their homes.
Fires like these are becoming the norm, not the exception.