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Every day the oil and gas industry pollutes our atmosphere with methane, and almost none of it will ever make a headline. But once in a while, a disaster so large occurs that it cannot be ignored. That’s what happened this month when Pennsylvania made national news after an Equitrans gas storage well in Cambria County began releasing massive, uncontrolled methane pollution for reasons that are still unknown. 

After launching 1.4 billion tons of methane into the Earth’s atmosphere over the course of two weeks the well has finally been plugged.

Methane is a powerful climate pollutant – at least 80 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over the short-term –  and we cannot undo the damage this enormous leak has done. However, this disaster is only a part of a larger climate crisis. And there is no better time than the present to reassess our commonwealth’s continued expansion of a fuel that creates irreparable harm to the health of Pennsylvania communities and to our planet’s future.

My time in the field inspecting oil and gas pollution across Pennsylvania has made one thing abundantly clear: only through a rapid, clean and just transition to a fossil-fuel free economy can the world avert catastrophic climate change. Whether at a well site in an Allegheny County park or from a distribution main under a street corner in Philadelphia, this industry releases methane pollution from one end of the supply chain to the other. It’s part of the cost of doing business. But it is the public, and not the industry, that pays the price. 

Every new well that is drilled becomes a forever climate and health liability – it must eventually be plugged and re-plugged again and again to keep methane from escaping. We cannot “undo” the wells that have already been drilled nor the countless tons of methane this industry has already emitted into our atmosphere. But we can chart a new course for our future by ceasing to knowingly, recklessly expand pollution that is causing immediate and long term harm for us all. 

While obvious disasters like this one in Cambria County get the news, there is a large-scale disaster happening every day across Pennsylvania. It is time we listen to impacted residents and act according to science by stopping the expansion of this industry and forging a clean energy future for us all.