EPA’s Methane Standards Must be Strengthened to Protect Communities & Climate

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Environmental Protection Agency should strengthen its proposed rule to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector as a crucial, cost-effective way to curb climate change and protect the public, including frontline communities, an expert at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) will tell the agency at a public hearing Wednesday.

The agency has proposed limiting methane pollution, which is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide pollution in increasing global warming and driving the climate crisis. EPA’s proposed protections also will significantly cut an array of other harmful air pollutants.

Lissa Lynch, director of the Climate & Clean Energy program's federal legal group at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), will testify at the hearing today and made this statement:

“EPA’s proposed methane rule is an important first step but must be strengthened to better protect communities on the front lines of oil and gas development and curb this industry’s contribution to climate change. First, EPA should eliminate the industry’s dangerous practice of routinely burning off gas—flaring—that sends climate and health-harming methane pollution straight into the air. Second, EPA should require more frequent monitoring of small but highly polluting wells, so that leaks can be quickly found and fixed.

“Closing these loopholes will rein in harmful methane pollution, making communities across the country safer, now and in the future.”

Her full testimony follows:

Good evening, my name is Lissa Lynch. I am the Director of the NRDC Climate & Clean Energy Program's Federal Legal Group.

NRDC supports EPA’s proposed methane rule as an important first step, but as proposed it does not go far enough to protect communities on the front lines of oil & gas development and to address the oil and gas industry’s contribution to climate change.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And since it has a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere, preventing near-term methane emissions delivers immediate climate benefits.

This year, the IPCC released yet another report detailing the devastating impacts climate change is already causing and the mounting costs of our continued failure to act. Of all the causes of this ongoing crisis, the IPCC points to methane pollution as the second biggest factor in the warming we’ve experienced so far. The report concludes that cutting methane “stands out” as a mitigation option that will drive both short- and long-term cooling.

The Global Methane Assessment released by the UN Environment Program earlier this year reached the same conclusion – that limiting methane emissions is one of the most cost-effective and fastest ways to reduce the rate at which the planet is warming. This assessment found that “readily available targeted measures” could reduce methane emissions 30 percent by 2030 – and that over half of those measures are actually cost-saving.

Recognizing this critical opportunity to make rapid climate gains by curbing a powerful pollutant, last month President Biden and other world leaders announced the Global Methane Pledge to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030 worldwide. The Pledge has now been signed by more than 100 countries.

The U.S. can lead this effort by setting strong standards for methane emissions from oil and gas production – our largest industrial source of methane pollution. The current proposal is a good start, but it must be strengthened in two critical ways: first, to eliminate routine flaring, and second, to require more frequent leak monitoring from more sources.

Routine flaring – the practice of burning off gas as a waste product rather than capturing it – is wasteful, dangerous, and unnecessary. When working properly, flaring emits climate and health-harming pollutants; when malfunctioning, unlit flares just release methane straight into the atmosphere. Colorado and New Mexico put in place sensible bans on flaring except in emergencies, and EPA should do the same.

Fugitive emissions – leaks – represent the largest category of emissions from the sector, and these emissions can be virtually eliminated with robust monitoring and repair requirements. The proposal should be strengthened to require regular monitoring at smaller, highly polluting wells. As proposed, the rule would allow the use of a "potential-to-emit" calculation that could enable thousands of wells escape regular monitoring, with no accounting for equipment failures or super-emitters that could end up going undetected for years. EPA should close this loophole and subject these smaller wells to routine monitoring for leaks. EPA should also improve the speed and frequency that leaks are found and fixed by accepting emission monitoring results from community groups as evidence of violations.

We know that cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is a critical and cost-effective way to make rapid climate progress and protect nearby communities. Allowing industry to flare excess gas and let leaks from smaller wells go undetected and unrepaired are wasteful and unnecessary gaps in an otherwise strong rule to limit climate- and public health-damaging emissions. EPA should take the sensible steps necessary to cut the oil and gas industry’s harmful methane pollution by closing these loopholes.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today, and we look forward to submitting more detailed written comments soon as well.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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