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States Consider Suing EPA for Ignoring Methane Emissions

December 17, 2012
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A coalition of seven states, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, last week threatened to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to address methane emissions from oil and gas operations in violation of the Clean Air Act.

The coalition charges that EPA violated the Clean Air Act when it "largely ignored" methane in recent updates to air pollution emission standards for the oil and gas industry. The EPA's decision not to directly address the emissions of methane from oil and natural gas operations, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), leaves almost 95% of these emissions uncontrolled, the coalition alleges. Besides New York, the coalition includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont.

"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," Schneiderman said. "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."

The EPA has determined that oil and natural gas production wells, gathering lines, processing facilities, storage tanks and transmission and distribution pipelines emit over 15 million metric tons of methane annually, which is the equivalent yearly climate change pollution of 64 million cars, according to the coalition. As such, the industry is the single largest source of man-made methane emissions in the U.S., and the second largest industrial source of domestic greenhouse gas emissions behind only electric power plants, it said.

The group said EPA is required to set emission controls called new source performance standards (NSPS) under the Clean Air Act for industrial sectors that cause air pollution. In August EPA revised NSPS regulations for the oil and natural gas industry. These regulations included, for the first time, federal air emission standards for natural gas wells developed through fracking, along with requirements for several other sources of pollution in the oil and gas industry that are currently not regulated at the federal level.

However, the revised regulations do not address the industry's methane emissions, the coalition said. "In fact, although EPA concluded that its regulations would have 'co-benefits' in reducing methane emissions, its decision not to directly address the emissions of methane from oil and natural gas operations leaves almost 95% of these emissions uncontrolled," the coalition said.

The oil and gas industry has been highly critical of the agency's estimates of methane emissions from oil and gas wells and has claimed that standards are based on overstated emissions estimates (see NGI, Aug. 27; June 11).

The coalition argues that because EPA recognizes that methane endangers public health and welfare and is emitted in large quantities by the oil and gas industry, the agency broke the law by deferring a decision on whether to set NSPS standards for methane emissions from the industry. The coalition's notice said it intends to sue EPA in federal district court unless the agency makes timely decisions on setting standards to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

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