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Critics Call Out EPA's Inaction on Fracking-Induced Methane Leaks

Methane is one of several gases that escape during oil and gas drilling. (Adobe stock)
Methane is one of several gases that escape during oil and gas drilling. (Adobe stock)
July 13, 2020

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Environmental groups, along with attorneys general of several states, have filed a motion in federal court to force the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate methane emissions from existing oil and gas wells.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate methane, but the lawsuit argues the agency isn't taking action.

Senior attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund Rosalie Winn said federal standards for the byproducts of oil and gas drilling are particularly important in states such as Arkansas, which lack current regulations to control pollution from these facilities.

"Arkansas has over 11,000 older well sites that are currently not regulated by the EPA or the state," Winn said. "There are roughly 170,000 people who live within a half-mile of these well sites."

Critics say since 2017, the EPA has not taken any steps to reduce methane pollution as required by federal law, and continues to drag its feet on coming up with a timeline to put regulations into place. The agency has said existing rules and state laws already address the problem.

Winn said a number of major and independent oil companies are calling on the EPA to regulate methane pollution from existing oil and gas sources.

"What's at issue here is really EPA doing a favor for the worst actors in the industry, those who are unwilling to take even these common sense measures to clean up oil and gas production," she said.

She said nearly 2.8 million people of color and 1.4 million people living below the poverty line live in close proximity to methane-polluting wells. Exposure to methane has been linked to headaches, nausea and other symptoms, but scientists say the effects of long-term exposure are unknown.

"Controlling emissions from these sites is critical to reducing health-harming pollution that these communities are exposed to on a daily basis," Winn said.

Mounting evidence suggests methane leaks are a significant contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions. One study found around 2.3% of natural gas produced in the U.S. escapes as methane - that's about 60% higher than EPA estimates.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - AR