Health Protected with New Methane Standards is a First Step Towards Needed Controls on All Wells

By path2positive

Kathy Attar is the Toxics Program Manager at Physicians for Social Responsibility. She holds a Masters in Public Health degree from UCLA.

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the first nationwide standards curbing dangerous methane pollution from new and modified sources in the oil and natural gas industry. These standards will reduce the exposure of nearby communities to methane pollution, a powerful greenhouse gas, and to other health-damaging air pollutants.

While EPA's new rules are an important first step, these rules must be part of a larger effort to significantly reduce leakage of methane and harmful air pollutants from existing oil and natural gas wells and infrastructure. Thus, a standard for new methane pollution is not enough. We must take action to address the millions of tons of methane pollution already leaking into the air from existing sources.

A 2014 study predicted that over 40% of the fracked shale gas wells that currently exist in northeastern Pennsylvania would leak methane into groundwater or the atmosphere over time.[1] Another little known fact is that 67% of all natural gas mined in the U.S. is from fracked wells.[2]

Sixty-seven percent of all natural gas mined in the U.S. is from fracked wells.

From a public health perspective, the U.S. must move quickly to low-carbon, much cleaner energy sources and put in place rules that keep dirty, unhealthy fossil fuels in the ground.

Scientific studies document that methane, a greenhouse gas, is 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the first twenty years, leaks extensively from oil and natural gas wells, infrastructure, pipelines and compressor stations. These leaks pose a severe threat to the world's climate and, thus, to human health. The oil and gas industry emitted more than 9.8 million metric tons of methane pollution in 2014, according to the latest data -- that's 34% higher than previous estimates.[3] This makes the oil and gas industry the largest source of this pollution in the U.S.

In addition, methane leaks are frequently accompanied by the leakage of other toxic pollutants, including volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants, and particulate matter and the creation of ground-level ozone. Oil and gas extraction activities contribute to respiratory morbidity and premature death, among other consequences.

Thank the EPA for taking this critical first step and ask them to move swiftly toward limits on existing methane sources. Our climate and our health are at stake.

Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), a Climate for Health partner, has been working for more than 50 years to create a healthy, just and peaceful world for both the present and future generations. PSR advocates addresses the dangers that threaten communities, using medical and public health expertise to: prevent nuclear war and proliferation; reverse our trajectory towards climate change; protect the public and our environment from toxic chemicals; and eliminate the use of nuclear power.

[1] Assessment and risk analysis of casing and cement impairment in oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, 2000–2012, Ingraffia, Anthony, Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. 5/30/2014;  vol. 111 no. 30.

[2] “Today in Energy”, May 5, 2016. US Energy Information Administration.

[3] ES-2 Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2014.


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