The Clean Water Blog

Methane Flares in the Bakken Oil Fields. Credit NASA

EPA Thinks If It Ignores It, Maybe Methane Pollution Will Just Go Away

I flew to DC this weekend. As usual our route took us over North Dakota. Flying over North Dakota is jarring. Because it is a rural state with large expanses of land with few people, you expect to see very little from 39,000 feet. Instead the space you see is lit up like a collection of small cities. But it's not cities. What you see when you fly over North Dakota is the light from oil and gas operations flaring methane. Some flight crews will even point it out like it is a tourist attraction.

But it's not a novelty or tourist attraction. It's appalling. That methane is intentionally flared. It is being wasted - so much is being wasted that you can see the flares from space. And it has a huge impact on our health and the climate.

Methane is a climate change steroid. It is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the near term.  It's polluting our air and making communities sick.

We know methane has huge negative impacts of public health - every summer children across the country suffer 750,000 asthma attacks due to the smog released from oil and gas infrastructure. We know it is supercharging climate-change. We know it is wasted money - nearly $300 million dollars in revenue from gas drilling on public lands is lost every year due to leaking methane.

EPA needed more data from the industry to help us figure out what actions to take. So the agency asked more than 15,000 owners and operators for information. EPA wanted to know basic details like the numbers and types of equipment at their sites. The agency also wanted to know about the sources of methane emissions and the types of emissions control devices or practices used to prevent methane leaks. It's information we need to begin to address the issue of methane pollution.

Unsurprisingly, the oil and gas industry didn't like it. Curiously the industry also didn't want the Bureau of Land Management to regulate methane on public lands (but that's another story). It's almost like the industry doesn't want to answer to anyone.

Luckily for the industry, Scott Pruitt puts them ahead of public health. Scott Pruitt has decided we don't need that information anymore. Last week EPA canceled the request. Scott Pruitt doesn't want EPA to learn anymore because Scott Pruitt doesn't want to protect public health from the oil and gas industry.

Not surprising with his industry ties. Pruitt’s record is clear. He acts with the oil and gas industry in mind. The companies have supported his campaigns, PACs, and organizations that he has been affiliated with, like Republican Attorney General Association, and dark money groups like the Rule of Law Defense Find come first. EPA's announcement last week confirmed it.

We're going backward now. We’ve made great strides toward addressing the serious threat that methane pollution poses to American communities. Turning back now would devastate our ability to fight climate change and ensure a healthy future for our children. But that is exactly what Scott Pruitt intends to do.