Ohioans deserve clean air and responsible development

In the viewpoint published on March 17th Dr. Robert Chase presents a false choice between the economic benefits of oil and gas development and clean air protections for Ohio communities. The truth is that we can both encourage a more responsible energy industry and protect our air.

Voluntary approaches to address pollution have not often worked in American history. In the case of the oil and gas industry, companies are not signing up to voluntarily change their ways. A very small percentage of the industry is choosing to take steps to reduce methane pollution without rules in place. Mandatory measures are needed to drive innovation and to level the playing field for all operators in the industry.

There also is no data to support the claim by Dr. Chase that federal methane standards will discourage natural gas production. In fact, the state of Colorado adopted methane standards with support from some of the state’s oil and gas sector, years before the federal government proposed standards and both oil and natural gas production. In fact, the fifteen largest oil and gas companies stated that environmental regulations had little cost or no “material” impact on production and profit in their reports to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last year.

Capturing methane is good business sense since methane is the primary component of natural gas. Capturing otherwise leaked methane results in companies recouping more product to get to market. What’s more, the technology to capture methane leaks is readily available and costs about a penny per unit of natural gas to implement.

Dr. Chase presents the EPA and BLM methane waste reduction standards as “heavy-handed” yet he fails to note that the EPA standards were slowly, cautiously and reasonably implemented before they were stayed by the Trump Administration. They were given a long public comment period and public hearings. The EPA methane standards are also fairly narrow as they only apply to new and modified oil and gas facilities. Existing oil and gas facilities were grandfathered in. Further, the BLM methane waste reduction standards, which dealt with both new and existing oil and gas infrastructure, were developed after two rounds of public meetings and an extensive public comment process. Compare that to the current rollback proposed by Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke that is moving forward without a single public hearing.

The EPA’s job is to protect public health, which is why reducing emissions across the oil and gas supply chain is critical. BLM has a legislative-bound duty to reduce waste and ensure a fair return for the American taxpayer. These two agencies worked in close coordination during the rulemaking efforts to avoid duplication.

May I also remind Dr. Chase that public lands are those owned by the people of this great nation and do not belong to the oil and gas industry. US taxpayers, including Ohioans who would have seen a pocketbook benefit, deserve prudent management of natural resources. Allowing the flaring, venting and leaking of methane on US public lands has resulted in the waste of $330 million of perfectly good natural gas each year. That is enough taxpayer-owned natural gas to meet the home heating needs for every household in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus more than two times over in a single year. American taxpayers have a right to their fair share of royalties from natural gas that is wasted.

Americans and Ohioans also deserve protection from the health problems associated with methane and other air pollution from oil and gas facilities. Methane and other volatile organic compounds like benzene are released at various stages of natural gas production, increasing the risk of health problems for people living within a half mile of oil and gas development. Ozone-forming pollutants which are released alongside methane can trigger asthma attacks in children or worsen emphysema in the elderly. The oil and gas industry has an obligation to be good neighbors to the communities in which they locate.

U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, whose agenda clearly runs counter to the core mission of the agency, and Sec. Ryan Zinke, have stopped these common sense methane standards in their tracks through every tactic available to them, going against the will of 80,000 plus Ohioans who expressed support for them. Congress should use their authority and stature to apply pressure on these agency heads to do their jobs to protect the health of Ohioans and our public lands from methane pollution. Praise goes to Senator Brown who has and will continue to stand up for Ohioans when it comes to unnecessary pollution from the oil and gas industry.

Melanie Houston is director of climate programs for the Ohio Environmental Council located in Columbus.