Environmental groups say actions in Washington and Harrisburg to curb methane emissions are major steps forward, but they see a big loophole in regulations that still needs to be closed.
In his first week in office, President Joe Biden directed the Environmental Protection Agency to have a proposal by September to address methane leaks from existing oil and gas facilities. Pennsylvania already regulates emissions from new facilities, and the Department of Environmental Protection is working on the rule-making for existing sources.
But Dan Grossman, senior director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the DEP proposal needs to be strengthened to include existing wells that produce only small amounts of gas.
“If Pennsylvania exempts low-producing wells, as they do in their proposal, it’ll leave that gaping loophole in its regime,” said Grossman. “The signal that it sends to Washington is that it’s okay to leave these off the table.”
Pennsylvania has nearly 10,000 oil and gas wells in the lowest-producing category. Experts say many of those are releasing more methane into the air than is being captured for sale.
Reducing methane emissions is critical to slowing the climate change that’s already having major impacts. Michael Kovach, vice president of the Pennsylvania Farmers’ Union, pointed out that includes agricultural production.
“Annual precipitation’s coming in heavier events,” said Kovach. “Pest populations that affect both crops and livestock are exploding, and our ability to produce the foods that feed our Commonwealth and our nation is being challenged like never before.”
He said the national Farmers’ Union was the first major agricultural membership group to acknowledge that human activity is a major contributor to climate change.
Grossman praised Gov. Tom Wolf as a leader in promoting policies to bring methane emissions under control. But until leaks from abandoned and low-producing wells are addressed, he said the job will not be done.
“We simply won’t be able to meet our climate goals unless we address methane in a wholistic fashion and get as much of those emissions under regulation as we can,” said Grossman.