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EPA hears public testimony on plans to cut methane emissions

Casey Holcomb / Red Dirt Report
Oklahoma City resident Ann Bornholdt gives testimony at the EPA hearing in Dallas on Wednesday.
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DALLAS, Texas – On Wednesday, citizens concerned about methane emissions from oil and gas drilling testified at EPA hearings held in Dallas, Texas and Denver, Colorado. In August, the EPA proposed new rules that would require any new oil and gas drilling site to capture methane and reduce emissions from leaks, and flaring, and intentional venting.

In 2013, 7.3 million metric tons of methane were vented, flared, or leaked into the atmosphere from the oil and gas sector. Because methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, the current releases of methane are estimated to have the same impact on climate disruption as 160 coal-fired power plants. Methane is 86 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Industry critics say methane venting is to our atmosphere what oil spills are to our water sources. Due to a lack of  monitoring, regulation, and federal guidance on the issue, the constant methane releases are often ignored by state-level environmental agencies. EPA’s proposed new rules would signal a step forward in changing the status quo.

EPA’s goal is to reduce methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent by 2025. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the industry now wastes enough methane annually to provide 5 million homes with gas for heating and cooking. Since the boom in shale oil and gas production due to high-volume hydraulic fracturing, the volume of vented and fugitive methane has soared. Along with natural gas, fracking brings to the surface other harmful air toxics in high volumes. That includes volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as well as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX). The EPA acknowledges that a growing body of scientific and medical research shows that prolonged exposure to such air toxics can cause cancer, asthma, and have serious long term health effects.

EPA official Fred Thompson (right) listens to a technical presentation on the increase in VOC emissions in Denton since the shale boom. (Casey Holcomb / Red Dirt Report)

Environmental groups such as the Texas Sierra Club, Earthworks, and the Clean Water Action Fund have criticized the proposed rules, saying they only apply to new and modified infrastructure. Existing oil and gas production accounts for close to 90 percent of of all methane emissions from the energy sector.  Emissions from these older facilities aren’t covered in the new proposals. Due to these exemptions, the Texas Sierra Club says that, at best, the new rules will keep emissions flat and will not lead to overall reductions.

Several Texas residents testifying at the Dallas hearing noted that the existing regulations in their state have been inadequate to protect the public from the devastating health impacts of vented gases and fugitive methane. A group of residents from Denton testified that, because their citywide ban on hydraulic fracturing was overturned by the Texas legislature, federal regulation is now necessary to curtail harmful emissions. One Denton  resident commented, “HB40 has stripped away a 100-year tradition of concurrent regulation by cities and the state. We can no longer adopt protective setbacks. We need the EPA now more than ever.”

In December 2010, top EPA administrators sent letters of reprimand to the Texas Department of Environmental Quality for failing to comply with Clean Air Act’s permitting requirements.

Odessa NAACP President Gene Collins submitting testimony at the EPA hearing. (Casey Holcomb / Red Dirt Report)

Gene Collins, president of the Odessa chapter of the NAACP, expressed concern over the voluntary provisions in the EPA’s methane reduction plan.  He called on the EPA to implement stronger, compulsory enforcement measures like fines and penalties for air quality violations. Collins testified that, in Texas, he’s witnessed the industry circumvent their responsibilities. According to Collins, the state needs more air quality monitoring stations to identify the sources of pollution. Collins also asked the EPA to support more community-based efforts to monitor air quality.  “I think we ought to use whatever we can to find out these sources and deal with them.”

Cities like Odessa, Texas and Eunice, New Mexico, located in Permian Basin areas, are completely surrounded by heavy drilling activity.

Google Earth satellite image showing the city of Eunice, New Mexico, surrounded by oil and gas drilling.

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About the Author

Casey Holcomb

Casey Holcomb is a writer, independent journalist, and policy advocate based in Norman, Oklahoma...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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