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Montanans Travel to Denver for Only Hearing on Methane Rule Rollback

Unlike some other states, Montana doesn't have setback limits mandating how far away wells must be from buildings and homes. (Northern Plains Resource Council)
Unlike some other states, Montana doesn't have setback limits mandating how far away wells must be from buildings and homes. (Northern Plains Resource Council)
November 15, 2018

HELENA, Mont. – The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday held its only public hearing on a proposal to roll back regulations on methane leaking for the oil and gas industry.

The meeting took place in Denver, but advocates for health and the environment traveled to it from around the country, including Sue Beug with the Northern Plains Resource Council, an organization representing ranchers and farmers in Montana.

Beug says the Obama-era rules have been an important firewall, preventing leaks of the potent greenhouse gas in a state where rules are more lax than in others such as Colorado.

Beug spoke from the Denver hearing.

"We don't even have a setback limit, which most places have,” she points out. “So the leaking and venting can occur right outside of someone's bedroom window. So these federal controls will mean a great deal to Montana."

Setback limits are legally mandated distances between wells and occupied buildings.

Beug says in areas where there is a lot of oil and gas development, there are health concerns, such as increased cases of respiratory diseases and asthma. She says long-term exposure could affect pregnant women and children as well.

The oil and gas industry says the current regulations are too burdensome and the EPA estimates rule changes will save the industry up to $75 million a year.

However, the agency also estimates the rollback will put an additional 380,000 tons of methane into the atmosphere between 2019 and 2025.

Methane traps heat at 25 times the rate of carbon dioxide.

Some companies, such as ExxonMobil, already have committed to the 2016 rules and are reducing leaking and flaring of methane at their sites over the next few years.

Beug says regulations can be relatively simple to implement.

"In some cases, it's as small as tightening a fitting to control this,” she explains. “It's not that it's hugely expensive to do. And it's also created a large industry to help with this mitigation and it's created a lot of technology and jobs."

Public comments on the agency's proposed relaxing of methane leaking regulations will be accepted until Dec. 17

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT