Our Perspectives on the Latest Issues
On Thursday, Dec. 13, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) took an important step towards controlling air pollution from the more than 7,000 existing unconventional natural gas wells in the state. They presented to their Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee (AQTAC) a draft proposed rulemaking that, while focused on reducing emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), will also help control methane emissions.
While the proposal is a positive step, the time to act on reducing methane emissions is quickly running out. As the graph below shows (1), the switch from coal to natural gas has reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the state, but this has come at a cost of increased natural gas emissions. While it may be three or four years before the emissions from natural gas electricity generation exceed that of coal, that does not consider leakage during gas production. When the industry’s self-reported leakage emissions are added in, natural gas may be responsible for more carbon pollution than coal as early as next year.
Considering the actual leakage from the gas industry might be as much as five times higher than what is being reported, and the Federal government is actively trying to eliminate the regulation of methane emissions altogether, it’s even more important for the state to take action and directly regulate methane emissions.
Reducing methane leakage is not only critical for our health and the environment, it is also good for the industry. Some companies recognize that investing in cleaner technology will save money in the long run, but without strong regulations, others will always be tempted to cut corners in search of short-term gains. State action on methane can help level the playing field, preventing short-sighted companies from undercutting those trying to do the right thing.
Governor Wolf deserves credit for the steps that have already been taken to reduce methane emissions from new sources, and he further deserves credit for this most recent positive step. But, until we can cross the finish line and get these emissions under control the work is not done.
While Governor Wolf has a unique opportunity to take action, each of us has a responsibility to help were we can. Reducing carbon pollution isn’t going to be easy and climate change deniers will be opposed to every step we take. We can’t all install solar panels or buy an electric car, but we can all remind our elected officials at the state and federal level that we expect them to defend our right to a clean and healthy environment.
Click here to find your legislator to voice your concerns about methane pollution and click here to subscribe to PennFuture’s email list to receive the latest news and ways to take action.
(1) Generation data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, leakage data self-reported to PA DEP from Natural Gas companies.