Last week, the Obama administration unveiled the first federal regulations to control methane emissions that could leak from newly drilled oil and gas wells and other new sources. The new rules increase how frequently companies must check and repair leaks to try to limit the amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, that the oil and gas industry releases. The agency also committed to begin the process of developing rules for existing oil and gas wells and other sources.
Once final rules are developed for existing sources, people living near existing oil and gas wells and projects will see relief, as far as air quality, but of course other impacts to their quality of life would remain.
That said, rules on methane emissions are being used to greenwash the climate impacts of increased dependence on natural gas from intensive drilling and fracking. Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator, hinted at this in her comments to the New York Times, “These new actions will protect public health and reduce pollution linked to cancer and other serious health effects while allowing industry to continue to grow ...”
Fossil Fuels Must Be Kept in the Ground
This line of thinking—that cleaning up air pollution from drilling and fracking will solve our greenhouse gas problems —is a dangerous one. The debate over transitioning to “cleaner” fossil fuels, like natural gas over coal, only distracts us from our real aim: keeping all fossil fuels in the ground and transitioning to renewable energy.
If we want to reduce emissions enough to avoid devastating climate impacts, reducing methane emissions is not enough. Fracking isn’t just about methane: we have to keep the vast majority of natural gas underground, just looking at CO2 from burning that gas.
Rather than tout half-measures like the new EPA regulations on methane, we need to instead fight for clean energy. If we truly want to protect our environment from dangerous levels of methane and CO2 emissions, then we cannot let the Obama administration give the natural gas industry a pass. The only way is to stop fracking and swiftly transition to renewable energy.