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EPA finalizes new methane standards for oil and gas industry

Natural gas wells in Lycoming County.

Joe Ulrich / WITF

Natural gas wells in Lycoming County.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced the first-ever federal standards Thursday aimed at curbing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. It’s part of the Obama administration’s broader plan to combat climate change.
Methane is the main component of natural gas, and it’s much more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping greenhouse gas. The EPA says new scientific data shows methane emissions are much higher than previously thought and nearly one-third of that pollution comes from the oil and gas sector.
Obama’s Climate Action Plan seeks to reduce methane emissions by 40-45% from 2012 levels by 2025. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy says the proposed standards will target both new and existing infrastructure.
“It will reduce air pollution that directly harms public health,” she told reporters on a conference call Thursday. “And it will make sure the oil and gas industry can continue to operate safely and responsibly.”
The industry trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, issued a statement calling the measures unreasonable and costly– warning they could put the nation’s domestic shale drilling boom at risk. The EPA estimates it will cost the industry $530 million to comply.
“The last thing we need is more duplicative and costly regulation that could discourage natural gas production, disrupt our progress reducing emissions, and increase the cost of energy for American consumers,” said Kyle Isakower, API’s Vice President of Regulatory and Economic Policy.
The Sierra Club welcomed the news as an essential step fulfilling the nation’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement.
“In taking this important first step, the EPA and the Obama Administration are rejecting the status quo that has allowed the oil and gas industry to recklessly pollute communities around the country for so long,”  the Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.
Earlier this year Governor Tom Wolf announced his administration was also working on new rules to curb methane leaks from Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry. The state Department of Environmental Protection is creating a new general permit for Marcellus Shale wellpads, which it hopes to complete this year. The agency is also drafting new regulations to curb leaks from existing sources such as compressor stations and wellpads, which are expected to be finalized by the end of next year.

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