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EPA toughens final methane emission rules

WHEELING, W.Va. — Because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency believes methane – the main component of natural gas – can be 25 times worse for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, officials Thursday mandated that drillers, processors and pipeliners curb emissions of it by 45 percent.

These methane standards are even stronger than EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy proposed in August. After reviewing more than 900,000 comments, the final plans call for cutting methane emissions by 510,000 tons by 2025. The August plan called for trimming pollution by 400,000 tons by that year.

Agency officials project the rule will yield climate benefits of $690 million by 2025, a net benefit of $160 million due to the estimated cost of $530 million.

“Today, we are underscoring the administration’s commitment to finding common-sense ways to cut methane, a potent greenhouse gas fueling climate change, and other harmful pollution from the oil and gas sector,” McCarthy said. “Together, these new actions will protect public health and reduce pollution linked to cancer and other serious health effects, while allowing industry to continue to grow and provide a vital source of energy for Americans across the country.”

West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association Executive Director Corky DeMarco said the new regulation will force operators to shut down some wells that are only marginally productive.

“This is yet another attack by this administration on fossil fuels. We are so blessed in this country to have the resources we have, but they are not letting us reach our potential,” he said. “With the monitoring equipment they are going to require, it won’t make sense to run some of the wells. They will be shut in.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas output for the nation last year reached a record 79 billion cubic feet per day, reflecting a 5-percent increase from the prior year.

Methane, the key component of natural gas, tends to leak during oil and gas production.

Although it makes up just a sliver of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, it is far more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, making it a top target for environmentalists concerned about global warming.

Processing plants, compressor stations and well sites throughout the Upper Ohio Valley often feature flare systems that can release methane into the air.

Despite the concerns, DeMarco said the industry is already reducing methane emissions, while continuing to shatter production levels.

“I just compare this to the Clean Power Plan. They are going to do whatever they have to do to make us rely on windmills to turn our lights on,” DeMarco said of the EPA.

The Clean Power Plan aims to curb CO2 pollution from power plants by 32 percent, leading some utilities to turn away from burning coal.

As industry leaders vehemently opposed the new standards, those with the San Francisco-based Sierra Club cheered.

“In taking this important first step, the EPA and the Obama administration are rejecting the status quo that has allowed the oil and gas industry to recklessly pollute communities around the country for so long,” Executive Director Michael Brune said. “Yet, if we are to truly safeguard our communities, our health, and our climate from the dangers of fossil fuel pollution, we must keep dirty fuels in the ground and transition to clean, renewable energy like solar and wind power.”

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