Friday, May 13, 2022

Guest Essay: PA's Low-Producing Conventional Oil & Gas Wells Are Leaking Too Much Methane, The Industry Needs To Take Care Of Its Own Trash

By Rev. Mitch Hescox,
Evangelical Environmental Network

The following guest essay first appeared in the York Daily Record May 11, 2022--

As a homeowner, I’ve always tried to be a good neighbor. I keep my property clean, and I keep my trash off my neighbors’ lawn. It’s basic decency. 
Not one of us would be pleased if our neighbors tossed their trash over our fences and into our yards. The trash would be smelly, unsightly, and a health hazard. 

This isn’t a farfetched idea. 

Yet according to a just-published new study, it appears that the oil and gas industry is incapable of giving us the same courtesy. 

We’ve always known that Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry has been a major source of pollution. 

We’ve known that the industry releases 5 times more fugitive methane and 9 times more volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) than they report to our Commonwealth. 

In effect, they’ve been handed a blank check to throw their waste into our air, into our yards, and into our playgrounds, threatening our kids’ lives and health.

Yet according to the new report published in Nature, the oil and gas industry’s lowest producing wells turn out to be the largest source of leaked methane.  [Read more here.]

While they represent only 6% of total US methane and oil production, these low-producing wells release 50% of all methane emissions. 

There are over 70,000 low-producing wells in PA out of a total of 81,500 total wells — the most in Appalachia – making PA-based oil and gas companies the region’s primary offenders.

Nationally these porous wells spew enough methane to supply over 3.6 million homes in the US every year. That’s $1.3 billion in wasted energy. 

Put another way, this leakage amounts to more than 10% of the gas these wells produce. 

And this wasted methane does not disappear harmlessly into the wind. It drifts up to our atmosphere where it worsens climate change, and it settles into the lungs, hearts, and brains of our children and grandkids. 

With industry representatives and politicians now demanding more drilling in the name of “energy security,” it seems smarter to capture this wasted gas first before sinking fortunes into drilling new wells that will only continue to harm our children and contaminate God’s amazing creation.

The ministry I lead, the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), represents over 100,000 pro-life, Pennsylvania Christians who understand that pure water and pristine air are God’s gifts to ensure an abundant life. 

We know what fouls God’s creation harms our kids. 

For us, creation care is simply part of what it means to follow Jesus. Creation care is a matter of life. 

Scripture agrees. 

When giving instructions to his people in the wilderness, God instructed them as such: “Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.” Numbers 35:34 (NIV)

Today in Pennsylvania, it is our children, including the unborn, who suffer the consequences from the defiling of the land through the wasteful release of methane and other toxins from these low-producing wells. 

Peer reviewed medical studies show that those living near methane development face a 25% increase in low-birth-weight infants; significant reductions in infant health; increased brain, spine, or spinal cord birth defects; increased congenital heart defects; and up to a 25% increase in childhood asthma.

Methane is also a powerful greenhouse gas 86 times more powerful than CO2 in its first twenty years. 

Methane is responsible for at least one-quarter of the climate warming we are experiencing today. 

Warmer temperatures produce more smog, increasing asthma. Warmer temperatures also force earlier Springs and longer Falls, increasing Lyme Disease that threatens all Pennsylvanians.

Here’s the good news: these leaks sprout from fixable sources. Better routine maintenance, new equipment, and regular site monitoring could capture this wasted methane and could even pay for the repairs since more methane will make it to market. 

Yet the oil and gas industry has so far refused to be a good neighbor by cleaning up their own mess. 

Instead, they toss it into our yards, and our children suffer the consequences.

Since industry has shown no willingness to do the right (and economical) thing, it’s time for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to defend our children and force the oil and gas industry to be better neighbors. 

Currently, the EPA is reviewing comments for a new standard to reduce these fugitive toxics. However, the first draft gives these low-producing wells another pass. 

Armed with these new facts and the over 135,000 comments from nationwide pro-life Christians, we pray the EPA requires regular inspection and repair at these low-production wells.

It has been almost seven years since the EPA first proposed methane standards but were unable to enact them. 

For seven years, EEN has continued the fight to defend our children’s health from these harmful emissions. 

It’s been seven long years of wasted methane spewing to the heavens unabated. 

Seven long years of released toxic gases, associated VOCs, and more cancer-causing chemicals contaminating the air we breathe. 

Seven long years of threatened life and health for our unborn and born children, pregnant women, and all of us.

Enough is enough. 

It’s time the oil and gas industry takes care of its own trash rather than throwing it over the fence for us all to do with.

(Photo: Arthur Stewart, a representative of the PA Independent Oil and Gas Association, told a House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee hearing in February he lit this conventional, low-producing well to illustrate how much methane was still coming out.}

Rev. Mitch Hescox is president/CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network. He is based in New Freedom, York County.

PA Environment Digest:

-- Compilation Of Articles About The Conventional Oil & Gas Industry In PA

Related Articles:

-- Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Dispose Of Drill Cuttings By ‘Dusting’ - Blowing Them On The Ground, And In The Air Around Drill Sites

-- Allegheny National Forest: Commercial Alternatives For Dust Suppression Makes The Practice Of Road Dumping Conventional Drilling Wastewater ‘Unnecessary’ On Roads  [PaEN]

-- Friends Of Allegheny Wilderness Issue Alert To Members About Possible Road Dumping Of Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater In Allegheny National Forest  

[Posted: May 13, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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