I had the pleasure, and privilege, of participating in a national methane fly-in on November 4-6 in Washington, D.C. Lest you think we flew methane-spewing drones over our nation's capital, this was actually a collection of 35 advocates from 10 states who met to discuss the issue of harmful methane pollution from the oil and gas sector. We also met with our elected leaders to urge them to support the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recently proposed rule to cut methane emissions from new and modified sources in the oil and gas sector including oil and gas wells and compressor stations.
And there's the rub. While we applaud the EPA for taking this important first step -- and it's certainly a step in the right direction -- the bulk of the methane pollution problem is from existing sources of emissions, or oil and gas wells that are here today, not waiting to be drilled tomorrow. By 2018, it is expected that 90 percent of methane pollution in the oil and gas sector will come from existing sources of emissions. In Pennsylvania, the second-largest natural gas producing state in the nation, that numbers thousands upon thousands of wells.
It was validating to hear that environmental advocates from as far away as New Mexico, Montana and North Dakota are just as concerned as we are in Pennsylvania around existing sources of methane pollution. These harmful emissions contribute to negative public health outcomes such as asthma attacks in children and lung and heart disease in seniors and those in under-served communities; are a wasted natural resource in that the $1 billion of methane emissions in 2013 could have heated five million U.S. homes and returned revenue to local communities; and exacerbate climate change as methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas with 86 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after its release into the atmosphere.
Forget the triple bottom line -- methane pollution is a disastrous triad for public health, the economy and the environment.
Here in Pennsylvania, we continue to call on Gov. Tom Wolf to launch a rulemaking for the direct regulation of methane emissions in Pennsylvania from new, modified and existing sources in the oil and gas sector.
In Washington, D.C. last week, our 10-state group of advocates -- which included representatives from labor, faith, parent and environmental groups along with passionate members of the Native American community -- had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the EPA's Bureau of Air Quality and urge the agency to expand its proposed methane rule to cover existing sources as well.
This is a fight we must win, and I was honored to stand alongside like-minded individuals in our nation's capital who were unafraid to sound the call for comprehensive, essential methane rules to protect our citizens and communities.
Elaine Labalme is strategic campaigns director for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. She tweets @NewGirlInTown.