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Fixing The Leaky Oil & Gas Industry

What You Should Know About Methane

In the face of rising methane pollution, cutting methane emissions is essential to combating climate change and building healthier communities.

Update: Nov. 15, 2016

What just happened?

Today, the Bureau of Land Management issued a safeguard to limit air pollution from oil and gas operations on federally owned public lands, reducing emissions of methane. Read the details.
Earlier in the year in May, EPA finalized the first nationwide safeguards limiting methane pollution from new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry. The standards are projected to reduce the equivalent of 11 million metric tons of carbon pollution by 2025 and save Americans a net of $170 million in costs related to methane pollution. Read the details.

What is methane?

Methane is the primary constituent of natural gas. It is the second-biggest driver of climate change after carbon dioxide.

Is methane pollution harmful to people?

Methane is emitted alongside ozone-forming pollution associated with unhealthy levels of smog. Ozone pollution is linked to asthma attacks, heart disease and premature death.
Families near drilling sites suffer from unexplained nosebleeds, headaches, dizziness and nausea.

Does methane play a role in climate change?

Yes. A big one.
Methane traps more than 80 times as much heat in the short term as carbon dioxide. 25% of the warming we are experiencing today is attributable to methane emissions.
New camera technologies now enable operators to easily see leaks of invisible natural gas.
Video courtesy of FLIR Optical Gas Imaging
Methane gas may be invisible to the naked eye, but camera technologies exist that can easily identify leaks. Yet, the oil and gas industry continues to carelessly allow millions of tons of methane to leak into the air each year.

Was the massive methane leak in California serious?

Known as the Aliso Canyon or Porter Ranch leak, nearly 100,000 pounds of greenhouse gases had been spewing into the atmosphere every hour, for nearly four months. The leak was discovered October 23. Thousands were displaced; two schools relocated.
Fleeing the Fumes: On The Ground In Porter Ranch. Save Porter Ranch co-founders Matt Pakucko and Kyoko Hibino, Food and Water Watch organizer Alexandra Nagy, and Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez.

What is the oil and gas industry’s role in methane pollution?

The industry dumps or loses into the air millions of tons of methane each year through unrepaired leaks and intentional releases. They are the largest industrial source of methane pollution.

Stories From The Frontlines Of Methane Pollution

Imagine a life where daily decisions are dictated by the air quality in your neighborhood. Want to play a baseball game? Check the news to see if it’s a bad air day, and if we’re good to go, let’s not forget an inhaler on our way out the door, just in case. Now imagine a life where air pollution has taken its toll on your family. You’re excited for your grandchild to blow out his birthday candles, only to hold back tears when you see him struggling to breathe.

This is the reality for communities living on the frontlines of methane pollution.

Last November, 35 folks from 12 states told these stories, and many more, to political decision-makers in Washington, D.C.

They had one simple message: oil and gas needs to finally clean up its act. See a snapshot of their stories:

Chaz Tedesco.
Jessica Ennis / Earthjustice

Chaz Tedesco

Locator map of Colorado.Colorado: Adams County Commissioner

The strictest methane standards in the country are in place in Colorado. Yet, the state is still a hotbed for methane, partly due to the methane that drifts in from other states.

Chaz spoke about concerns his constituents have with oil and gas development continuously moving into their neighborhoods.

While many of his constituents aren’t against oil and gas development per se, they do expect the industry to be held to the highest standards.

Susan Tullai-McGuinness.
Jessica Ennis / Earthjustice

Susan Tullai-McGuinness

Locator map of Ohio.Ohio: Registered Nurse and Adjunct Professor, Case Western Reserve University

Three of Tullai-McGuinness' grandchildren have asthma and are forced to stay inside on poor air quality days.

Tullai-McGuinness presented data showing that 14% of people in Ohio will suffer from asthma at some point in their lifetimes—and that those numbers go up for people living close to fracking operations.

If the EPA’s proposed Methane Pollution Standard is enacted and industry is required to capture methane emissions, there is a side-benefit: a reduction in volatile organic compounds, which are known to aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Kristi Mogen.
Jessica Ennis / Earthjustice

Kristi & Kylee Mogen

Locator map of South Dakota.South Dakota

A mother-daughter team, the Mogens were forced to move after health impacts from oil development in Wyoming overwhelmed their family and their farm.

Kristi and Kylee shared photos of plants on their farm dying as a result of "flaring" (releasing harmful pollution into the air while burning gas) oil wells surrounding their property.

And 14-year-old Kylee told of a nosebleed that took 21 days to stop and subsequent nosebleeds that occurred every couple of days until her family moved.

Our bodies should not be the dumping ground for dirty industries. The technology to dramatically reduce harmful air pollution is available today, and major polluters should be required to use them.

Earthjustice has worked for decades to clean up the oil and gas industry and hold it accountable to the highest standards. In 2012, our litigation led the EPA to create and enforce some air pollution limits on the industry. Now that the EPA has issued safeguards from methane pollution from new and modified sources, strong and complete methane pollution standards for existing sources in the oil and gas sector is the next step in the fight.