Testimony to the EPA in support of stronger action against methane pollution

The EPA is proposing new rules to rein in methane pollution

Al Braden | Used by permission

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This week, the Environmental Protection Agency has held public hearing on an proposed rules to cut methane and other harmful pollutants from new and existing oil and gas operations. The updated rule builds on the draft rule released by EPA in 2021 and is an important step towards addressing global warming and protecting public health by reducing methane emissions.

To support our efforts, we urge our readers to take a moment to sign our petition in support of the strongest possible safeguards against methane pollution.

Our Clean Air and Water Advocate Michael Lewis delivered the following testimony:

Testimony of Environment Texas Research and Policy Center 

On the Environmental Protection Agency’s Supplemental Proposal to Reduce Methane and Other Harmful Pollution from Oil and Natural Gas Operations

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this proposal. My name is Michael Lewis and I am the Clean Air and Water Advocate for Environment Texas, a statewide environmental advocacy group. Whether vented, flared, or leaked, methane emissions are environmentally damaging, harmful to human health, and just wasteful. I believe that the EPA’s proposal has the potential to drastically reduce methane pollution. 

Texas accounts for 47% of vented and flared natural gas in the United States, and I have seen firsthand just how harmful that pollution can be. Over the last few months I had the opportunity to travel across the Permian Basin and collect stories from people living and working in the region. It is important to understand these interviews were not with people inherently hostile to fossil fuels. These were ranchers, oil and gas attorneys, and others with industry ties. We are  posting them to our website EnvironmentTexas.org. 

One conversation that stands out was with Dr. Edward Brooks, a physician and specialist in immunology. I had asked him if he would be willing to live next to a refinery or high production areas and his response was to laugh and almost scream “Hell no!” 

Talking to him really drove home that methane directly harms our citizens. Simply put, the closer you live to a petrochemical plant, the higher the rates of leukemia and lymphoma.  Flaring releases compounds, such as benzene, a known carcinogen or toluene, a neurotoxin. One recently published study examining the Eagle Ford Shale region found that “pregnant women who lived near areas where flaring is common had 50 percent greater odds of giving birth prematurely than those who did not.” 

Todd Richardson, a professor at University of Texas – Permian Basin called the flaring at night a “post apocalyptic kind of nightmarescape” and I was told by other professors and students that the smell was enough to wake you from a dead sleep. Those same students all specifically mentioned their concerns about global warming. 

Methane traps about 30 to 90 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but lasts in the atmosphere for a few decades rather than a few centuries. Due to its high effect and relatively low atmospheric lifespan, reducing methane emissions is one of the simplest, high impact actions we can take to reduce global warming. 

Finally, methane flares are simply wasteful. EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis estimates cumulative national net climate benefit from the proposed regulations of approximately $4.5 billion a year, even when accounting for compliance costs. Stopping flaring is viable. ExxonMobil has stated that “experience in the Permian Basin demonstrates that zero routine flaring is within everyone’s reach.” The Texas Methane and Flaring Coalition also agrees we should strive to end routine flaring.

The need for strong federal regulation is clear. Averaged over the last five years, the Texas Railroad Commission which oversees fossil fuel production in the state, has granted operators about 4,800 flaring permits annually. In 2021, 68 billion cubic feet of gas were flared. In an interview with an oil and gas attorney, I was told,“the Railroad Commission is the one that needs to step in and enforce these rules, and they just don’t.” The EPA must use its federal authority to rein in that practice. 

While EPA’s proposed methane safeguards are an important step in the right direction, there is still room for improvement. We ask that the EPA consider six key additional measures: 

  1. Close a loophole in the leak detection and repair (LDAR) standards by requiring routine inspections at all wells with equipment known to malfunction.
  2. Ensure that operators at wells capture gas and limit flaring to when it is necessary for safety or maintenance reasons.
  3. Ensure zero-emitting pneumatic equipment requirements for pneumatic controllers and expanding this requirement to include pneumatic pumps.
  4. Broaden the standards to be applicable to more storage tanks.
  5. Provide a clear pathway for communities and individuals to participate and engage in the Super Emitter Response Program.
  6. Require that abandoned wells are subject to inspections until closure and that oil and gas companies submit a closure plan and conduct a post-closure survey of these wells to ensure they are not leaking.

We cannot miss out on this opportunity to cut methane pollution, safeguard public health, and act on climate. That means strengthening your proposed rules to finalize the most comprehensive methane safeguards that finally reign in methane waste from oil and gas companies and hold polluters accountable.

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Michael Lewis

Clean Air and Water Advocate, Environment Texas Research & Policy Center

Michael works to promote clean air and clean water in Texas. Michael lives in central Texas with his family and spends most of his free time hiking and gaming.

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