WHEELING, W.Va. — Marcellus and Utica shale drillers may have thought they were in the clear when the Environmental Protection Agency found fracking did not create “widespread” water problems, but the government will now force the industry to cut 45 percent of its methane emissions.
At the same time officials representing the coal industry blasted the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan – aimed at curbing carbon dioxide pollution by 32 percent – during a conference at Oglebay Park on Tuesday, EPA officials rolled out their plan to mitigate methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry.
“Cleaner-burning energy sources like natural gas are key compliance options for our Clean Power Plan and we are committed to ensuring safe and responsible production that supports a robust clean energy economy,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said.
Methane, the primary component in the product commonly known as natural gas, is 25 times more potent in trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2, federal officials believe.
So, McCarthy’s agency has multiple plans for preventing methane from escaping into the atmosphere, namely compelling drillers to find and repair leaks; capture natural gas from fracked wells; and limit emissions from compressor stations and processing plants.
In December, an unknown amount of methane leaked into the atmosphere over a 10-day period when the wellhead blew off at a Triad Hunter operation in Monroe County. Moreover, processing plants, compressor stations and well sites throughout the Upper Ohio Valley often feature flare systems that can release methane into the air. The product is more harmful to the environment if it is released without burning, such as in a leak.
However, industry leaders and elected officials did not seem to buy McCarthy’s argument that this could be good for business.
“The reduction of methane emissions that EPA put out today is just another assault on fossil fuel production. While natural gas production has increased by nearly 40 percent since 2007, this same industry has reduced methane emissions, without mandatory limits being imposed, by over 35 percent,” Corky Demarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said. “The proposed reductions of 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025 will penalize our country when we need to ensure energy independence and further reliance on U.S. natural resources.”
“Natural gas is a large and vital part of West Virginia’s economy, especially with our coal industry under attack. However, these new methane mandates threaten to impede natural gas development and job growth in the Mountain State,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said.
The EPA estimates the regulations will prevent emissions of benzene and other potentially carcinogenic materials, while maintaining the plan will curb asthma attacks and emergency room visits.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, disagree.
“This administration has already taken an ax to our coal jobs, and now it is targeting our thriving natural gas industry, which has already made significant progress in reducing methane emissions,” Manchin said. “By overregulating natural gas production, these unnecessary EPA regulations will raise costs, threaten jobs and make it difficult for us to move forward on a very promising resource.”
“The last thing we need is more duplicative and costly regulation that could increase the cost of energy for Americans,” Gerard added.
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