Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."

The Limits to Methane Regulations- Comment to the EPA

1 Comment

Environmental Protection Agency

EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0505-4776

Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New and Modified Sources

My name is Patricia DeMarco. I am a biologist by training with a thirty-year career in energy and environmental policy.[1] I speak on behalf of my grandchildren and the unborn children of the 21st century whose fate we determine by our actions today. I support the EPA’s efforts to regulate the oil and gas development industry as part of the 2009 Endangerment Finding, where the EPA Administrator found that the current, elevated concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere—already at levels unprecedented in human history—may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare of current and future generations in the United States. In your background of the regulation you state:

“As Earth continues to warm, it may be approaching a critical climate threshold beyond which rapid and potentially permanent—at least on a human timescale—changes not anticipated by climate models tuned to modern conditions may occur.” http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0505-4776

 

In the face of such dramatic findings, the regulations proposed here have the effect of putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage. The regulations you are considering come late in the process for an industry shamefully protected by Section 322 of the National Energy Act of 2005 with exemptions from the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. These exemptions for high volume hydraulic fracturing and other deep drilling operations assure weak regulatory provisions. Nevertheless, as citizens we must reiterate the plea for regulations that take consideration of the public health and safety for those affected by fugitive methane and volatile organic compounds produced at all stages of the gas and oil production process.

 

As you consider the reams of technical comments received in this docket, I ask that you recognize that the hydraulic fracturing process for developing natural gas from deep shale formations happens in neighborhoods, next to schools, in and under parks and on farms where our food is grown. The industry has intruded with impunity into the most intimate parts of communities and sets up industrial operations adjacent to sensitive areas and in watersheds. Fugitive emissions from such operations affect people where we live, work and play. The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment, but has lost the confidence of the people because the industry has eviscerated its capacity to act strongly in the public interest. The EPA’s purpose is to ensure that all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work. These regulations restricting the emission of methane and volatile organic compounds from oil and gas industrial operations must draw a clear line of safety for the public.

 

Hydraulic fracturing now takes place in 39 states, with millions of people living within five miles of a fracking facility. For people in the zone of impact, the national average data used for assessing “significant risk” are not relevant. If your house is within 100 feet of a well, or your school is 200 feet from a compression station, or your business is 300 feet from a processing facility, you are exposed to numerous volatile organic compounds. Theo Colborn and colleagues compiled a list of 632 chemicals (an incomplete list due to trade secrecy exemptions) identified from drilling operations throughout the U.S. Their research found that 75% of the chemicals could affect the skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Approximately 40–50% could affect the brain/nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems, and the kidneys; 37% could affect the endocrine system; and 25% could cause cancer and mutations.[2]

 

Fugitive methane mobilized by the fracking process has migrated into water supplies, even wells posing significant health and safety hazards to the persons affected. Inquiries for documentation about the number of people for whom the gas companies are providing trucked drinking water were not obtainable, as proprietary information. Requests for documentation of the composition of emissions were not obtainable because the industry has no requirement to disclose, or even measure what they are. This arrogant attitude of disregard for the concerns of people about their health and safety cannot stand.

 

These regulations on methane and VOC emissions should apply to existing oil and gas facilities as well as new and major modifications. Strengthen the requirements for documentation and reporting of leaks at all stages of the operations: Pre-production, Production, Processing and Transmission.[3] Establishing required protocols for monitoring and reporting leakages of methane and volatile organic compounds will contribute to the understanding of this entire system.[4] Annual or semi-annual data collection is insufficient to protect the public health.[5] Continuous monitoring stations should be required for every unconventional oil and gas facility that is within five miles of residences, businesses, schools, parks or populated areas. The data from such monitoring stations should be publicly available, and local authorities should be notified when levels exceed established limits of safety. Corporate voluntary compliance protocols are inadequate to protect the public health and safety.

 

Uncertainty remains over a potential environmental benefit of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing that has public health implications. Natural gas is more efficient and cleaner burning than coal. When burned, natural gas releases 58% less CO2 than coal and 33% less CO2 than oil. Because of that, it has been promoted as a transitional fuel to begin conversion to greener energy such as wind and solar. Although natural gas burns more cleanly than coal, a recent study argues that replacing all of the world’s coal power plants with natural gas would do little to slow global warming this century. Switching from coal to natural gas would cut the warming effect in 100 years’ time by only about 20%. [6]Although a 20% decrease in warming over 100 years is significant, the consequences of the warming not prevented will have grave implications for public health.[7]

 

If the objective of this regulation is to reduce the emission of methane and other VOC’s as greenhouse gases affecting climate change, I question the effectiveness of the investment contemplated in this regulation as the best way to do so. As stated in the background of this proposed regulation, the EPA estimates the total capital cost alone of the proposed regulation will be $170 to $180 million in 2020 and $280 to $330 million in 2025. This amount of investment in solar and renewable technology implementation would have a far greater positive effect on greenhouse gas reductions with virtually no public health effects. We require a comprehensive energy policy that moves forward to an economy that is not based on fossil fuels. Continuing to build out the infrastructure, fine-tuning the way we extract oil and gas, is not solving the underlying problem.

 

Specific Recommendations:[8]

Recognizing that the process is in motion, the following specific recommendations may help to make these regulations more effective.

 

  1. Require Reduced Emission Completions (REC), also known as “green completion,” to reduce methane and other VOC leaks for all wells, not only gas wells. RECs and green completions refer to technologies that capture methane and other gases at the well head during and after well completion and avoid their release into the atmosphere.
  2. Require Leak detection and repair (LDAR) programs for all stages of oil and gas development.
  3. Require advanced technologies to control fugitive emissions.
  4. Require reduction of diesel particulate matter through the use of cleaner combustion engines and alternative fuel types at oil and gas development operations, especially in the transport of water, wastes and chemicals from High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing operations.
  5. Limit venting and flaring gas associated with oil production and ensure that all gas is captured or used on-site.
  6. Require comprehensive characterization of all pollution sources in unconventional oil and gas development and quantitative assessment of pollutants and emission rates through research and updated federal and state inventories.
  7. Improve air quality monitoring before, during, and after well development and around all sources.
  8. Expand the federal and state ozone monitoring network to better characterize air quality in rural areas highly impacted by pollution from oil and gas development.
  9. Require identification and implementation of adequate and protective setback requirements to reduce the exposure of residents to intermittent and chronic levels of air pollutants and toxins. Such research could draw on findings from analyzing the dispersion of air pollution as a function of the distance from road traffic and consider data from the effects of new or existing setback rules in states with unconventional oil and gas development. See, for example, the study being conducted by the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania.[9]

 

In closing, I call for the closure of regulatory loopholes in federal environmental programs to fill data gaps, increase transparency and oversight of the oil and gas industry and ensure public health protections. As the evidence of significant and ongoing public health effects from unconventional oil and gas drilling accumulate, it is unconscionable to continue expanding and protecting this industry. In the interest of protecting the health of our planet and the health of our people, we must cease developing fossil deposits that are destroying our life support system.

 

Thank you.

 

[1] See full Curriculum Vitae at https://patriciademarco.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/patricia-m-demarco-2013-cv.pdf

 

[2] Colborn T, Kwiatkowski C, Schultz K, Bachran M. 2012. Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective, Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: an International Journal 17(5):1039-1056.

[3] J. Bradbury, M. Obeiter, L. Drucker, A. Stevens, W. Wang. “Clearing the Air – Reducing Upstream Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the U.S. Natural Gas System.” World Resources Institute. April 2013. www.wri.org/publication/clearing-air Accessed September 25, 2015.

[4] Ramon Alvarez, Steven Pacala, James Winebrake, William A. Chaneides and Steven P. Hamburg. “Greater Focus Needed on Methane Leakage from Natural Gas Infrastructure.” PNAS. Vol. 109 no. 17. Pp. 6435-6440. www.pnas.org/109/17/6435 Accessed September 25, 2015.

[5] Bamberger, M., Oswald, R. (2012).Impacts of Gas Drilling on Animal and Human HealthNew Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health, 22(1): 51-77.

[6] Finkel ML, Law A. The rush to drill for natural gas: a public health cautionary tale. Am J Public Health. 2011;101(5):784–785.

[7] Howarth R, Santoro R, Ingraffea A. Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations. Clim Change. 2011;106(4):679–690.

[8] Tanja Srebotnjak Miriam Rotkin-Ellman. “Fracking Fumes – Air Pollution from Hydraulic Fracturing Threatens Public Health and Communities.” Natural Resources Defense Council. Issue Paper ip:14-10-a. December 2014. http://www.nrdc.org/health/files/fracking-air-pollution-IB.pdf Accessed September 24, 2015.

[9] Geisinger Research, “Geisinger Leads Marcellus Shale Initiative Coalition Explores the Potential Health Effects of Natural Gas Mining in the Region,” Geisinger Research Connections Winter: 1–3, 2013.

One thought on “The Limits to Methane Regulations- Comment to the EPA

  1. Excellent!

    Like

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