Just days after finalizing tighter regulations for controlling soot levels across the US, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is under pressure to curb methane emissions.
Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, warming the climate about 25 times more than carbon on a pound-for-pound basis. As a carbon forcer, it is targeted for strict control to control the pace of climate change.
But when the EPA released new emission standards for oil and natural gas production in August, it didn't regulate methane emissions.
Therefore, seven eastern states led by New York plan to sue the EPA. Other states suing are Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont and Massachusetts.
"EPA has determined that emissions of this potent greenhouse gas endanger public health and welfare, and that processes and equipment in the oil and gas sector emit vast quantities of methane.
Moreover, EPA has compelling data, including from 18 years of experience administering the Natural Gas Star Program, demonstrating that many measures to avoid (or reduce) methane emissions from new and existing oil and gas operations are available and cost-effective.
Despite these findings, EPA has missed the applicable deadline for determining whether standards and guidelines limiting methane emissions from oil and gas operations under section 111 of the Clean Air Act are appropriate and for issuing such standards."
States are required by law to wait 60 days for a response before proceeding with litigation.
EPA Buys More Time to Evaluate Methane
In August, the agency published updated New Source Performance Standards for the oil and natural gas industry, including the first air emission standards for natural gas fracking.
At that time, it pledged to "continue to evaluate the appropriateness of regulating methane with an eye toward taking additional steps if appropriate."
By failing to take action, however, the states argue EPA has already missed the deadline - violating the Clean Air Act and leaving almost 95% of methane emissions uncontrolled.
Argues New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is leading the push for a lawsuit:
“We simply can’t continue to ignore the evidence of climate change or the catastrophic threat that unabated greenhouse gas pollution poses to our families, our communities and our economy. While it is clear that methane from oil and natural gas development contributes substantially to climate change pollution, regulators have failed to require the industry to use available and cost-effective measures to control these emissions. Today, our coalition is putting EPA on notice that we are prepared to sue to force action on curbing climate change pollution from the oil and gas industry.”
According to the EPA's own data, oil and natural gas production wells, gathering lines, processing facilities, storage tanks and transmission and distribution pipelines release more than 15 million metric tons of methane annually, the equivalent of the pollution caused by 64 million cars.
It is the single largest source of man-made methane emissions in the US and the second largest industrial source of domestic greenhouse gas emissions after electric power plants.
Methane levels are already rising around the world, and frighteningly high concentrations are trapped under the polar ice caps, which are melting at an alarming rate. In 2010, methane reached 1,808 parts per billion, up 0.28% and the highest levels since United Nations began keeping records.