Will federal rollback leave Pennsylvania with “weak and meek” pollution protections?

Read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board’s call for strong Pennsylvania methane rules here.

There is visible proof that oil and gas air pollution is making our climate crisis worse and impacting communities across Pennsylvania.  It is an urgent reminder that our commonwealth, the 2nd largest gas producing state, needs strong rules to help protect health, climate, and our quality of life. 

In August, Earthworks had the opportunity to meet with staff in the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in Washington, D.C. to show them exactly what oil and gas air pollution in Pennsylvania looks like.

Earthworks filmed this pollution event at the EQT Hunter Well Pad in Marianna, Pennsylvania in August. 

All over Pennsylvania, the Earthworks Community Empowerment Project team makes visible air pollution that is normally invisible to the naked eye using optical gas imaging (OGI) cameras, the same specialized equipment used by regulators and the industry. Through the OGI camera, we see unlit flares allowing dangerous gases to escape. We observe out of control emissions pouring out of tanks when safety equipment unexpectedly goes offline, as well as plumes of pollution from the routine operation of engines. We see pollution at wells, compressor stations, and other facilities for unconventional, “fracked” Marcellus Shale development and at the smaller, older conventional operations statewide. 

Unfortunately, these problems are very likely to get worse. 

Four years ago, all states received common-sense, nationwide standards to reduce the oil and gas industry’s methane pollution–a powerful greenhouse gas–and a host of health-harming and sometimes carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Those rules made a real difference by reducing pollution from more than 2,000 oil and gas wells across Pennsylvania, in addition to compressor stations and other facilities. 

Right now, however, the President and his appointees in the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are trying to repeal these hard-won and necessary rules that protect human health, the environment, and the stable climate on which we all depend. 

So, while we rolled the footage of dirty wells and compressor stations for the roomful of OMB staff in Washington, D.C., I explained that Pennsylvania has a pollution problem and needs these rules. The industry pollutes at all stages — whether drilling and fracking a well or pumping gas through pipelines. Some of this pollution is allowable under the federal rules or state air permits, and some of it comes from unpermitted leaks and malfunctioning equipment. Much of this pollution goes unabated for days, weeks, months — a problem that the rules are designed to solve. Getting more lax with the industry makes no sense, and would only make a bad situation worse.  

Alas, on August 28th, the Trump administration formally proposed doing away with the rule, which would leave Pennsylvania without these key protections. 

Although the Wolf Administration has promised to do more, state standards are not yet where they need to be, and new rules to reduce methane pollution aren’t coming fast enough. Earthworks is not alone in calling upon the Governor to take action to close this gap. Last month, environmental groups and Pennsylvania legislators –Democrats and Republicans–brought that message to the state capitol. And just last week, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s editorial board slammed Wolf’s proposed draft of the rules as “weak and meek.” 

Where the Trump administration and the US EPA have let us down, we need Governor Wolf and his DEP to step up. There’s simply no time to waste when it comes to the climate and health protections that Pennsylvania residents deserve.