Advocates call on Wolf to keep his promise on methane

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Environmental groups are launching a new effort to hold Governor Tom Wolf accountable for his earlier promises to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas industry.

Wolf announced his intention to reduce methane leakage in early 2016. He said the state was “uniquely positioned to be a national leader in the fight against climate change” while supporting responsible energy development.

Her administration has since created regulations for future wells, but it still has not finalized a plan for existing sources.

Clean Air Council, Environmental Defense Fund, Earthworks and Clean Water Action have teamed up to launch WolfsMethanePromise.com. It has two counters: one to show how much methane was emitted during the governor’s tenure and one to show his remaining time in operation.

Methane doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, but it has over 80 times the warming power of CO2 over a 20-year period. Last year, the Environmental Defense Fund released a study which revealed that Pennsylvania’s gas industry leaked more than one million tonnes of methane in 2017, 15 times more than state reports showed.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has issued a draft regulation governing volatile organic compounds at existing oil and gas sites last year, which the agency said will also detect methane leaks. It garnered public comment in the summer of 2020.

The draft rule exempts tens of thousands of low-production wells. Advocates say these sites are responsible for half of the industry’s annual emissions, even if they don’t send much gas to the market.

Most of the public commentary came from people stimulated by faith and environmental groups, and focused on “closing the loophole” for low-producing wells.

Joseph Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council, said the proposal is not in line with what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says needs to be done on methane to avoid catastrophic warming.

“It is literally the least the state can do to comply with federal mandates,” Minott said.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Governor Wolf said climate change was a top priority. She said the DEP was considering the comments and “will make revisions to the proposed regulation where appropriate and in accordance with legal authority to improve the regulation.”

Industry groups said their members were using best practices and new technologies to prevent methane leaks.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration between The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the Commonwealth’s energy economy.


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