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EPA officials hear from supporters, opponents of methane emissions rules

| Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, 1:45 p.m.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Protesters line up to enter the federal building Downtown for an Environmental Protection Agency hearing testimony would be given on its proposed rule to decrease methane emissions from the oil and gas industry on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Protesters line-up to enter the federal building Tuesday Sept 29, 2015 downtown for an EPA hearing where the agency is taking testimony on its proposed rule to decrease methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

The Obama administration's proposal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is a “good first step” but won't address leaks from older wells, environmental advocates and industry opponents told regulators in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

“We must go even further to tackle existing sources of methane emissions and ultimately keep all dirty fossil fuels in the ground,” Sierra Club board member Jessica Helm of Massachusetts said during testimony that echoed dozens of others in the William S. Moorhead Federal Building, Downtown.

Rules the Environmental Protection Agency proposed this year to cut leaks of the greenhouse gas by at least 40 percent would only apply to new wells, pipelines and related equipment, leaving existing sources unregulated, many testified. Those sources will account for 90 percent of methane emissions by 2018, several people said.

“This is using a Band-Aid to stop hemorrhaging,” Patricia DeMarco of Forest Hills said during the hearing, the last of three that the agency held nationwide on the proposal. Hearings took place last week in Denver and Dallas.

Industry and business groups have pushed back against the rule — one of several this White House has proposed targeting the energy sector — as unnecessary and costly. It seeks to extend permitting requirements to pipelines and storage equipment while requiring more efforts by companies to detect and fix leaks.

“We are concerned with the U.S. EPA's second-guessing of the states' successful efforts to reduce methane emissions,” said Eric Cowden, community outreach coordinator for the North Fayette-based Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Matthew Todd, senior policy advisor for the American Petroleum Institute in Washington, said the industry has “voluntarily led the way in its pursuit of improved operations to safely maximize the recovery and capture of these valuable oil and gas resources.”

EPA figures show methane emissions from shale gas wells fell 79 percent over the past 10 years while production increased by 44 percent, Todd said.

“We urge the EPA not to get in the way of this success story by developing one-size-fits-all regulatory solutions,” he told four agency officials and about 50 people gathered to hear testimony.

The EPA, which aims to have the rules in place next year, heard from about 100 speakers on the same day Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush discussed a proposed energy policy in Cecil that would roll back environmental regulations such as this and a limit on carbon emissions from power plants. A hearing on that carbon rule last year drew hundreds of speakers and thousands of demonstrators to Pittsburgh.

Very few people in the more subdued methane hearings spoke against the rules' intent or in support of industry efforts to track and reduce leaks.

“Voluntary measures do not work,” said Gretchen Dahlkemper, a leader of the Moms Clean Air Force.

About 50 activists, some in red T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Methane pollution: our health at risk” below an outline of an oil rig, rallied in the Westin hotel across the street and marched to the hearing room to deliver testimony.

Many called on Pennsylvania leaders to enact stronger rules to limit methane leaks from existing sources. State environmental leaders have said they are reviewing that.

Representatives from a dozen environmental groups talked about the danger of allowing climate change fueled by methane leaks to continue, and of health effects linked to volatile organic compounds in the emissions.

“I shudder to think of what my grandchildren … will face if we fail to act on this challenge,” said Larry Schweiger, head of statewide advocacy group PennFuture.

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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