Methane: A Dangerous Problem, An Easy Solution
Methane: A Dangerous Problem, An Easy Solution
No one voted for dirtier air in the last election. But the Trump administration and anti-environment extremists in Congress made as one of their priorities an attempt to unravel the Obama administration’s regulations on methane pollution—a safeguard that protects tens of thousands of Americans.
The Trump administration’s move comes alongside an effort by Congress to nullify methane protections using the rarely used and controversial Congressional Review Act. (In May, Congress' attempt to gut these protections failed, when a vote to proceed to debate in the Senate failed, with 51 senators voted in accordance with their constituents wishes to preserve limits on wasteful methane pollution.)
“Trump and his administration cannot blatantly ignore the law just to benefit polluters at the expense of everyone else,” said Earthjustice attorney Robin Cooley, who has been defending the BLM methane rule in court. “Compliance with public health rules cannot be indefinitely delayed while the Trump Administration and bad actors within the industry try to undo them.”
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s order to suspend the commonsense rule “unlawfully cut the public out,” Cooley said on October 4, after the U.S. District Court of Northern California ruled that the Trump administration illegally suspended the BLM rule without necessary public comment. “It arbitrarily short-circuited the rule-making process, ignoring the concerns raised by thousands of people over the months-long public process. Judge Laporte reaffirmed the important role the public has in preserving natural resources and protecting public health.” (Read the Judge's ruling and judgment implementing the ruling.)
Learn about why these safeguards are so important and about the strong communities who are fighting alongside Earthjustice to protect themselves against oil and gas industry pollution:
What is methane?
What is the oil and gas industry’s role in methane pollution?
Is there a solution to the methane problem?
Who is protected by the BLM Methane Rule?
Bob Arrington is a native born Coloradoan and, although retired, keeps his professional engineer status active. There was a time, he remembers, when the oil and gas industry coexisted more peacefully with Coloradoans. But in the fracking rush of recent years, “things became a development frenzy.”
One of his first jobs out of the University of Colorado was designing air pollution control equipment for industrial, chemical and power plants. Now living in Battlement Mesa, he’s putting his years of expertise to use—working to protect himself and his community from methane and other air pollution from nearby oil and gas operations.
“We are surrounded in all directions by Bureau of Land Management land and the oil and gas activities on those lands have direct consequences on our air quality,” said Bob. “They’re saying they can’t, but it absolutely can be done better and with cost recoveries.”
Two of the most important things to Barnesville, Ohio resident Terri Schumacher are her faith and her grandchildren, including her two-year-old granddaughter who lives with her. But keeping up with her granddaughter has gotten more difficult in recent years. She uses an inhaler and has had increased difficulty breathing ever since the oil and gas industry began operating nearby, prompting her to participate in a Yale University study monitoring her indoor and outdoor air quality.
“I was sitting outside on my front porch the other night with my daughter,” she said last summer. “It was so bad, I couldn’t get a breath.”
She doesn’t reject the oil and gas industry. But she does think they need to be better neighbors: “You can’t turn your head when somebody else is being hurt by decisions that you make. You are accountable for that. I firmly believe that. Maybe not in this life—but one day we have to answer. All we are asking for is oversight, for protection against the hazards and the problems. We will support the industry. Just please make it safe.”
Lois Bower-Bjornson is the mother of three boys and one girl and lives in Scenery Hill, Pennsylvania, about 40 minutes south of Pittsburgh. Lois owns two small businesses and lives in the Marcellus shale field where natural gas development is rampant. Lois’s home is surrounded by 30 well pads, three compressor stations, and multiple pipelines.
She has been working to protect her children from air pollution from gas development for the past four years. Lois has provided testimony at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hearings and traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials, and to Harrisburg to meet with Governor Wolf’s staff.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts,” Lois told reporters during a recent trip to Washington, D.C. “We may not always get the results that we want, however we will be heard and not ignored any longer.”
Navajo Community leader Daniel Tso has watched as oil and gas operations have encroached more and more on his community’s tribal lands. He has seen the flames at drilling sites as methane is burned off in wasteful flares, smelled the chemical odors filling the air, felt the residue of grease and smoke from the flares on his skin. And he is standing up to protect his community by supporting protections like a rule the Bureau of Land Management has adopted to reduce air pollution from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands.
“We are seeing more of our older folks having to carry around an oxygen tank,” Tso says. “The leases have been signed, the approval has been given, but the one thing—how do we mitigate the adverse impacts, the health and safety of the people?”
The mother of two daughters, one with epilepsy and a second on the autism spectrum, Kristi Mogen works hard to minimize her family’s exposure to chemicals. She grew up on a farm in South Dakota and now lives in Douglas, Wyoming, where her family’s grass-fed cattle herd and organic garden supply the family with plenty of fresh, healthy food, free of dangerous chemicals that could worsen her daughters’ conditions. But on April 24, 2012, a nearby well that Chesapeake was drilling suffered a blowout, sending a plume of vaporized “drilling mud” chemicals into the air.
The family evacuated, covering themselves in protective clothing, hats, gloves, sunglasses and bandanas before driving away with the windows closed. Kristi’s years of hard work to protect her daughters from chemical exposure was undone in an instant.
That afternoon, the family began getting nosebleeds. Kristi’s younger daughter suffered 29 straight days of nosebleeds, sometimes several times a day. Her husband’s blood tests revealed that he no longer had detectable levels of testosterone. Since the blowout, Chesapeake has continued to vent and flare pollution into the air. Despite a community uproar, state regulators with the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission have fined Chesapeake a mere $1,000. Prior to her experience with Chesapeake and the WOGCC, Kristi thought that regulation of the industry should be left to the states. She doesn’t believe that anymore. That is why she is took her story to lawmakers and policymakers in Washington, D.C.
“We need some federal regulations, regulations with teeth,” Kristi says. What spurs her to fight? “It’s my farm girl grit, I guess. This is our way of life and they really messed it up. And I’m a mom. I take care of my family. That’s my job.”
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. We are now defending the BLM Methane Rule in court and on Capitol Hill.
“It's past time for oil and gas companies to embrace best practices that could make the difference between catastrophic climate change and a secure future on a livable planet,” said Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen. By reining in methane pollution, we can combat climate change and build healthier communities. We must oppose these rollbacks. Anti-environment extremists are putting health problems, premature deaths, and environmental hazards back on the table in favor of profits for industry, leaving average Americans to face health and environmental problems.