The following is the written testimony of EEN's Vice President for Science & Policy, The Rev. Dr. Jessica Moerman, from the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis hearing entitled "Cutting Methane Pollution: Safeguarding Health, Creating Jobs, and Protecting Our Climate" on June 24, 2022:
Dear Chair Castor and Ranking Member Graves,
Thank you for your service to our nation. We thank you for your leadership and common commitment to making America’s energy the cleanest in the world – a goal that every American can be proud of and that is indispensable for giving our children and grandchildren the bright and healthy future they deserve. Compared to other global energy producers, American energy has made incredible strides in this area, but when it comes to ensuring every child – including the unborn – have a chance at a thriving, fulfilling life, there is still much work to do. That is why we are grateful for the Committee’s hearing on the benefits of cutting methane pollution, including sealing methane leaks that waste our nation’s precious natural resources at a time when families cannot afford any wasted drop.
As pro-life evangelicals, we have a special concern for the unborn. We want children to be born healthy and unhindered by the ravages of pollution even before they take their first breath. The medical community has long known pollution and other environmental impacts harm our unborn children, and we know that fossil fuel combustion is the leading environmental threat to children’s health worldwide. It was once thought expectant mothers supply a shield of protection to their developing unborn child by filtering out pollutants – medical research repeatedly shows that this is untrue.
Studies show that smog, VOCs, and air toxics have a disproportionate impact upon life in the womb and that living close to oil and gas infrastructure poses a significant threat to unborn life:
Dr. Lisa M. McKenzie with the Colorado School of Public Health published peer-reviewed research linking birth defects to methane production.
Casey J.A., et al further find that simply living within a half-mile radius of natural gas development leads to increased brain, spine, or spinal cord birth defects in children.
Research by Dr. Shaina L. Stacy and others at the University of Pittsburgh shows that in Butler County, PA babies born to families living closer to unconventional gas wells have lower birth weights. Babies with low birthweight are at higher risk for breathing problems, neurologic problems, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and have harder time eating, gaining weight, and fighting infection because their tiny bodies are simply not strong enough.
This isn’t a small or isolated problem: 3.2 million children attend 12,445 schools located within with 0.5 miles of an oil/gas facility and 17.32 million Americans of all ages live within that same radius. Over 85% of the medical studies that have studied the gas industry’s impact on health find that that emissions from oil and gas facilities and infrastructure is highly detrimental to the health of both children and adults – this includes heart failure, asthma, and the exposure to known carcinogens.
Not only are these leaks spewing methane, benzene, other VOC’s, and toxins that threaten our children’s right to an abundant life, methane is greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than CO2 in the first twenty years – making fugitive and leaking methane as an imperative for any hope in keeping temperature below 1.5o C. by 2050 or sooner. Methane is responsible for at least one-quarter of the climate warming we are experiencing today. Warmer temperatures produce more smog, increasing asthma, another serious health concern.
The level of emissions from leaks from these facilities is grossly underestimated, with research showing it is very likely to be 60% greater than current EPA estimates. Reducing methane emissions by least 65% below 2012 levels – either through Congressional Legislation or regulation – is necessary to sufficiently safeguard our children’s health from pollution and the growing threats of climate change. This must include addressing leaks across the complete supply chain from production to transportation and distribution for all existing wells and new production.
Reducing emissions from low producing wells represents a great opportunity for high return on investment. According to a recent report published in Nature, the oil and gas industry’s lowest producing wells turn out to be the largest source of leaked methane. While they are only 6% of total US methane and oil production, these low-producing wells release 50% of all methane emissions. As an example, out of a total of 81,500 total wells in all of Appalachia, there are over 70,000 low-producing wells alone in the state of Pennsylvania where EEN is based – making Pennsylvania based oil and gas companies the region’s primary offenders.
Nationally these porous wells spew enough methane to supply over 3.6 million homes in the US every year. That’s $1.3 billion in wasted energy. Put another way, this leakage amounts to more than 10% of the gas these wells produce. And this wasted methane does not disappear harmlessly into the wind. It drifts up to our atmosphere where it worsens climate change, and it settles into the lungs, hearts, and brains of our children and grandkids. With industry representatives and politicians now demanding more drilling in the name of “energy security,” it seems smarter to capture this wasted gas first before sinking fortunes into drilling new wells that will only continue to harm our children and contaminate God’s amazing creation.
Here’s the good news: these leaks sprout from fixable sources. With the advances of technology and new monitoring techniques, we have the tools at hand to stop methane gas leaks. Better routine maintenance, innovative new equipment, and regular site monitoring could capture this wasted methane and could even pay for the repairs since more methane will make it to market.
And we are not alone when it comes to calling for robust controls on methane gas leaks. We collected over 135,000 comments from pro-life Christians in 2022 in support of a new EPA rulemaking on methane asking for regular inspection and repair at these low-production wells.
In addition to the Evangelical community, leading oil/gas corporations and organizations like Shell, Equinor, BP, EQT, Jonah Energy, Equitrans Midstream, and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America all support methane leak standards. Industry actually stands to increase their bottom lines by plugging wasteful methane leaks and recapturing fugitive methane emissions, making cutting methane pollution is a win-win-win.
Yet many in oil and gas industry has so far refused to address this critical health risk, and our children suffer the consequences.
With little or no willingness from these industry players to do the right (and economical) thing, Congress has a critical role to play in encouraging wise stewardship of the American economy, our precious natural resources, and protection of our children’s health and future. Before allowing more methane drilling or further funding for methane expansion into hydrogen, plastics, or other potential uses, Congress must secure a commitment from industry reduce this leakage problem.
In addition to defending our children and their future, this is also a matter of fairness for the American People who foot the added tax burdens (not to mention the health care costs) that we already pay to clean up the messes of oil/gas industry. Today’s bonding structure and royalty fees to access resources owned by the American People is unjust and needs an overhaul.
Our common book, the Bible, is clear on fairness, justice, and righteous as the Hebrew Bible prophet Amos 5:24 (NIV) states,
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided $4.5 for the remediation of orphaned oil/gas wells. These billions in taxpayer dollars that will only cover part of the problem of orphaned wells that companies have left to us. This is a problem that would not exist if proper bonding requirements were in place from the start or had been updated since the 1950s. Without adequate bonding requirements, we are doomed to repeat these mistakes yet again and saddle the next generation with despoiled land, water, and air and a billion-dollar price tag for a mess they didn’t make.
We urge the Committee to defend our children’s health and the American Taxpayer by demanding that new bonding requirements that fully cover real remediation. This includes actual third-party bonding per permit – not self or blanket bonding. These issues are correctly and thoroughly discussed in an outstanding white paper entitled Broken Promises by Conservatives For Responsible Stewardship
EEN President, The Rev. Mitch Hescox, knows firsthand of our government’s failure to ensure proper land restoration after energy and mineral extraction. His childhood playground was left blighted and barren by un-reclaimed strip mines less than 100 yards from his Cambria County, PA backdoor. Even today acid mine drainage erodes his family’s traditional hunting area.
Another opportunity for fiscal responsibility and wise stewardship of our resources is securing fair payment for lost, leaked, or vented methane and associated gases. A methane fee guarantees that just and fair royalties are paid to mineral-rights owners – whether they be an individual landowner or the Federal Government. Putting a fiscal incentive to encourage good practices and adequate maintenance reinforces good stewardship of our precious natural resources and benefits all of us. It is simply wrong not to demand proper accounting for the all the valued product extracted.
Another failure in stewardship for the American people has been not increasing the royalty rate for commodities extracted on Federal lands. Royalty rates have not changed for Federal Leases for over 100 years, since before the Great Depression and the presidency of Harding. According to the Government Accountability Office, our failure to increase royalties adequately and properly has cost the American people up to $300 million dollars per year by 2025 with a maximum 2% decrease in Federal production.
Failure to increase royalties still is just another example of putting the oil/gas industry before the health our children. This amounts to another handout to one of the most subsidized industries in the US.
Even with today’s high energy prices, analysis shows that changing bonding, instituting a methane fee, and increasing royalties will not increase costs for Americans but is necessary to hold industry accountable.
Our past and current tax system incentivizes profits for the fossil fuels industry while the costs have been borne in the hearts, lungs, minds, and even lives of our children and passed along as tax burden to the American people.
It is time to incentivize the well-being of our children and the American taxpayer instead of the fossil fuel industry. It’s past time for the American People to stop paying to clean-up the fossil fuels industries’ messes. Our children’s health and the American economy cannot afford for us to repeat the mistakes of the past. We cannot levy the same burdens upon the next generation that earlier generations have levied upon us.
Now is the time to exercise sound fiscal responsibility through good economic and environmental stewardship. It’s time to defend our children’s health and future by reducing methane leaks, stop wasting taxpayer money by cleaning up the fossil fuels legacy, and supply real bonding and royalty reform.
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