Today, December 2, 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final standard to curb wasteful methane emissions and other harmful air pollutants from the oil and gas sector. On behalf of the more than 600,000 pro-life Christians who spoke out with EEN for stronger methane pollution safeguards over the last decade, the Evangelical Environmental Network applauds President Biden and EPA Administrator Regan for taking this bold action to cut methane pollution from oil & gas production.
Fossil fuel pollution, including methane, is the leading environmental threat to children’s health worldwide, robbing our children and loved ones from reaching their full God-given potential. 3.3 million Ohioans live–and over 533,000 children attend school–within this threat zone. In fact, Ohio has the second highest number of people in the nation in this threat radius. In Ohio, this includes over 2,972 schools and daycares and the front yards and front doors of thousands of communities of color and low-income communities, who are disproportionately impacted and exposed. This is already having a health impact on our children with Cleveland being ranked by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America in the top 10 asthma capitals in the United States. Medical research indicates that air pollution from the oil and gas sector in the US resulted in $77 billion in total health impacts annually.
Methane pollution not only harms those living locally but also has a significant global impact as a potent greenhouse gas responsible for nearly one-third of climate warming since the Industrial Revolution. Medical research finds that extreme heat, which is becoming more severe and more widespread with climate change, contributes to complications in pregnancy, pre-term birth, heat-illness and death amongst infants, young children and student athletes, and even impacts children’s ability to learn. Research, however, also finds that cutting methane pollution is the fastest way to slow global warming now and that cutting leaks from oil and gas pipes used in fossil fuel production is one of the quickest ways to reduce methane emissions.
EPA’s new safeguards will phase out wasteful non-emergency flaring practices at all new and most existing sources within the next two years, which the International Energy Agency calls the single most impactful measure to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The standard incentivizes oil and gas operations to deploy advanced technologies and innovations to monitor and eliminate leaks over the entire lifecycle of oil and gas infrastructure, implement routine advanced leak detection and repair programs, replace leaky equipment with state-of-the-art zero-emission pumps and controllers, advances public transparency on verified third-party emission monitoring, and makes important strides towards ensuring methane super-emitters no longer slip through the cracks. Implementing these practices is highly cost-effective, with a significant proportion resulting in no net-costs and little-to-no impact on consumer and household energy rates.
Altogether, the new methane safeguards are expected to eliminate an estimated 80% of wasteful methane leaks and prevent approximately 58 million tons of methane (equivalent to 1.5 billion tons of CO2), 16 million tons of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and 600,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants from being released into the air we breathe over the next 15 years. In 2019, fossil fuel producers in Ohio wasted 31 billion cubic feet of gas in total: enough lost gas to meet the annual needs of the entire cities of Columbus and Cincinnati.
The new EPA methane standard is not only good for our health, climate, and God’s creation, but will also create thousands of new, family-sustaining careers in manufacturing, construction, and maintenance operations to deploy leak reducing technologies and practices at new, modified, and existing oil and gas facilities. It also represents wise stewardship of our precious natural resources and good fiscal management. Methane leaks, if captured instead of being wasted into the atmosphere, could heat and power millions of homes and generate billions in revenues.
While the new standards are good news, more work must still be done for Ohioans to reap the benefits. Specifically, Ohio must put in place a robust State Implementation Plan (SIP) that provides a plan for implementation, maintenance and enforcement. Under the finalized standard, states will now have 24-months after the standard’s issuance, adding 6 additional months to the originally proposed timeline, to design and submit a SIP to the EPA. States, however, must still begin implementation of the SIP within 36-months of the standard’s issuance. Crafting a robust SIP that fully defends the health and life of Ohioans will require the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to work effectively together under the direction of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Administration. OEPA will oversee pipeline and extraction methane emissions and enforcement. They will interact primarily with companies and will continue to regulate permitting. ODNR will be receiving money for well-capping and will handle the venting/flaring and implementation side of the standards.
While we celebrate these landmark safeguards for our health and the hope of a safe climate, this is only just the beginning. To give Ohio’s children the healthy future they deserve, we call on the Ohio state government, EPA, industry, and other stakeholders to come together and move swiftly to fully implement these new safeguards and finally put a stop to wasteful and toxic methane pollution emissions.