Yesterday the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing in Pittsburgh, supposedly on strategies for combating mythical man-made global warming by reducing methane gas emissions. It reality it was an anti-shale crapfest, complete with speeches by radicals from PennFuture and the Environmental Defense Fund.
The Dems also pulled in a couple of residents of Washington County, PA who are good at crying on cue to talk about the abject horrors of “unregulated and uncontrolled emissions of methane gas from dozens of wells near their homes and a campus in the Fort Cherry School District.” Cue the violins.
A number of articles were published chronicling yesterday’s hearing. Of course everyone’s favorite uber-biased “reporter” and shale hater from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Don Hopey, turned in a sterling piece of propaganda:
State Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearings are generally dry affairs about policy proposals, but not Tuesday morning.
At the Teamster Temple in Lawrenceville, two Washington County residents provided tearful testimony about devastating health and property problems they blamed on unregulated and uncontrolled emissions of methane gas from dozens of wells near their homes and a campus in the Fort Cherry School District.
Jane Worthington, a nurse from Robinson Township who previously lived in Mount Pleasant Township, told the panel exposure to exceedingly high shale gas well emissions caused her 15-year-old daughter, Lexy, to develop headaches, nosebleeds, vomiting and a neurological disorder that temporarily paralyzed one leg and blinded her.
“She’ll never be the same,” Ms. Worthington said. “She’s moving to a new school because I can’t continue to send her to that environment. That school district is full of sick children. … When I hear industry say it can’t afford methane controls, well, we can’t afford not to have them. We need methane regulations now. You have to hear what I’m saying.”
The hearing is the second the policy committee has conducted on the state’s response to climate change in the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord and suspend commitments to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, which many scientists say are causing the climate to warm.
Last November, the committee met in Pittsburgh to hear testimony about limiting carbon emissions, primarily from fossil fuel combustion.
State Sen. Lisa Boscola, D- Lehigh/Northampton, the committee chair, said methane is 86 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. She noted that a state Department of Environmental Protection proposal to reduce methane would only capture 21 percent of the fugitive emissions.
“That would leave Pennsylvania with one of the least protective methane rules in the nation,” she said.
Andrew Williams, Environmental Defense Fund director for regulatory and legislative affairs, said the DEP proposal is disappointing and falls short because it doesn’t cover low producing wells, omits capture of volatile organic compounds, and doesn’t contain a strong leak detection and repair provision.
He said at least five other natural gas producing states — Colorado, Wyoming, California, Utah and North Dakota — have methane emission control rules stronger than the DEP proposal.
“There are effective ways to curb methane gas emissions in a reasonable way for the industry,” Mr. Williams said. “It’ estimated that the industry could reduce emissions by 50 percent at zero net cost.”
Jared Metcalf, U.S. operations manager for Target Emissions Services, a private company that does leak detection work for the oil and gas industry, said wells in Pennsylvania leak approximately 115,000 tons of methane a year, enough to heat 49,000 homes.
He said leak detection for the oil and gas industry is a growing opportunity for businesses and a state regulation requiring leak detection and repair would be good for the local economy.
“Methane reduction legislation would cause a chain reaction for job creation,” he said. “We would hire 10 new technicians to meet the needs of our clients.”
Dale Tiberie, who lives in Scenery Hill, Washington County, tearfully testified that “pungent odors” from a well pad next to his 4-acre property often make him lightheaded and nauseous, and high pressure gas pipelines nearby make him fearful of a disastrous accident.
He invited Earthworks, an environmental organization, to document the odor problems, and at the hearing he exhibited for the senators infrared video showing plumes of methane, propane and other volatile organic compounds billowing from storage tanks on the well pad.
“We need these regulatory controls now, not 10 years from now,” Mr. Tiberie said.
Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, said new regulation to reduce methane leaks is needed, as is stepped up enforcement and adequate funding for DEP regulators. He said the committee could hold a third hearing to listen to health care professionals about climate change impacts.
“We are in favor of jobs, but the environment has to be safe,” Mr. Fontana said. “Even though Democrats are in the minority in the Legislature, they can put a focus on this issue, and bring awareness to the whole Senate.”
Other Democratic senators attending the hearing, which attracted approximately 30 people, were Jay Costa of Forest Hills, Lindsey Williams of West View, and Jim Brewster of McKeesport. (1)
The purpose of yesterday’s hearing was to generate stories like the one above. The hearing was not about a serious exploration of the issues, but political theater. PA’s leftist Senate Democrats want to regulate the shale industry out of existence, and do so by fabricating a “problem” that doesn’t exist, then proposing “solutions” to take care of the problem. It’s all a sham.
Methane is “86 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide” says Sen. Boscola. Really? It’s not 85 times more potent? Or 87 times more potent? These people pull this garbage out of some body cavity that we’ll not name. Quack “science.”
The following, from the left-leaning PBS, is nowhere near as dramatic as Hopey’s article. It’s downright balanced in comparison:
While Pennsylvania officials weigh how to regulate emissions from natural gas well sites, a panel of state senators on Tuesday heard how leak detection technology is advancing and creating more jobs.
Several members of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee met in Pittsburgh for a hearing on methane, the main component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
Arvind Ravikumar, assistant professor of energy engineering at Harrisburg University, said crews historically have had to drive to gas sites and operate a camera to spot emissions. New technologies make that possible from drones and planes.
He said businesses are forming around those technologies in Alberta, where he’s worked with regulators and the oil and gas industry.
“Many of these start-up companies will be setting up offices in Calgary to cater to their Canadian clients,” he said. “Given the scale of natural gas activity in Pennsylvania, I see no reason why we cannot have these companies set up operations out of Pittsburgh.”
Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection is proposing a regulation on gas companies, requiring them to conduct quarterly checks for volatile organic compounds, which contribute to ozone and sometimes escape from existing gas wells. While the proposal does not target methane specifically, the agency has said that repairing leaks of VOCs would also help prevent methane emissions.
Ravikumar said some of the emerging technologies target methane rather than VOCs.
“A regulatory regime that does not target methane will not be able to take advantage of the latest cost-effective approaches to leak detection,” he said.
Regardless, the proposed DEP regulation would result in more jobs for businesses tasked with finding those leaks in Pennsylvania, according to one such company that operates here.
“Immediately, I probably will have to hire up to 10 technicians to meet the needs of our clients after these regulations are put into play,” said Jared Metcalf, U.S. operations manager for Target Emission Services, which works with natural gas producers to identify leaks.
Some environmental groups told lawmakers that the proposal could be made stronger by addressing methane because the makeup of natural gas is different throughout the Marcellus Shale play. Andrew Williams, director of legislative and regulatory affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund, said natural gas in the northeastern part of the state contains few volatile organic compounds.
He added that the proposal is too lenient in exempting low-producing gas wells. As a result, EDF estimates it would cover only 21 percent of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.
“I think it’s important to point out the flip side of that,” he said. “There are 79 percent of the emissions going unchecked across the state.”
DEP’s proposed regulation recently got approval from an advisory committee and is continuing through the agency’s rulemaking process.
A DEP spokesperson said in an email that addressing climate change is a top priority for the Wolf administration, and that the proposed rule stems from a federal requirement to limit VOC emissions. The agency estimates the regulation would reduce what it considers a “significant amount” of methane by 20,080 tons per year.
“DEP takes comments from the public seriously and, depending on the public comments received, DEP may amend the draft rule or re-evaluate after implementation of final rule,” DEP spokeserson Elizabeth Rementer said.
While no natural gas companies testified at Tuesday’s hearing, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group, said in a statement that it has concerns about the potential cost of the DEP proposal and suggested the agency delay it given regulatory uncertainty at the federal level. The Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration directed states like Pennsylvania to address volatile organic compounds, but the agency last year proposed withdrawing that requirement.
“Our industry is laser focused on ensuring methane, the product we produce and sell, as well as related emissions are effectively and safely managed,” the Marcellus Shale Coalition said. “To continue to build upon our air quality-related successes, we’re enhancing best practices, utilizing new technologies and collaborating as an industry around these shared environmental and business goals, all while pushing record production levels.”
Lawmakers at the hearing also heard from several southwestern Pennsylvania residents who live near gas wells.
Jane Worthington of Washington County tearfully recounted the health problems her daughter has experienced, which she attributes to natural gas development in the area, including near her child’s school.
She spoke of her daughter’s headaches, bleeding noses, bruises, and her own frustrations trying to obtain test results showing what was happening.
“We need methane regulations now, and I can’t say it strong enough,” she said. (2)
From the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, a “nonpartisan” news organization:
Panelists at a Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing on Tuesday slammed the state’s proposed regulations on methane gas, and called on state lawmakers to let the Department of Environmental Protection exercise more regulatory authority.
The hearing at the Teamster Temple in Pittsburgh brought environmental policymakers and advocates together to discuss methane emissions across Pennsylvania, including a new Wolf administration proposal regulating volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, a smog producing chemical produced in gas drilling.
Andrew Williams, a lobbyist for the Environmental Defense Fund, told the committee that the rule “falls far behind” comprehensive regulation in such states as Colorado and California.
A regulatory committee at the Department of Environmental Protection approved the proposed rule last week. It will advance to another rule-making committee this summer.
If approved finally, the rule would fulfill an Obama administration mandate. But critics say it would allow large amounts of methane gas to continue to escape into the atmosphere, further contributing to global warming.
Williams and other environmental advocates said Tuesday that the rule should be expanded to target methane — a component of natural gas that contributes to climate change. They also want DEP to remove provisions in the rule that would exempt most wells in the state from regulation.
Rob Altenburg, director of the PennFuture Energy Center, said the rule is a sufficient way to comply with federal law and reduce smog-producing gases across the state.
But as a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions and aggressively fight climate change, the regulation is lacking. Altenburg said pushback from the Republican-dominated General Assembly has made the DEP under Wolf reluctant to pursue stronger regulations.
“DEP has chosen to take a path where they regulate VOCs in large part because there’s a federal mandate to do that,” Altenburg said. “It’s much harder to get them to say, ‘We need to regulate this because it’s the right thing for Pennsylvania.’”
Parts of the federal Air Pollution Control Act limit states’ abilities to enact regulations that exceed minimum federal requirements. But there are some areas where states can exceed federal standards with good reason, Altenburg said, such as by enacting measures that would combat climate change.
Federal regulations aside, the state still has reason to be concerned when it brings strict regulations before the Republican-controlled General Assembly, Altenburg said.
Altenburg said bills that would weaken DEP’s regulatory power or put new burdens on its regulatory process emerge in the Capitol every year.
The “constant tension” with the General Assembly ultimately weakens the agency’s regulatory will, Altenburg said.
In addition to asking the Wolf administration to expand the VOC regulation, PennFuture is calling on legislators to stand up for the DEP when they hear proposals that would undermine its power.
“We need people to say, ‘There are good people, engineers and experts [at the DEP] who want to do the right thing,” Altenburg said. “But when we see regulations that say legislators can veto DEP proposals or strip its authority to regulate, that makes it that much more difficult for them to do their jobs.” (3)
Finally, the official Pravda version of the event, issued by Sen. Boscola’s office:
At the request of state Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Forest Hills) and Senator Wayne Fontana (D-Brookline), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing today in Pittsburgh on strategies for combatting climate change by reducing methane gas emissions.
“Methane has a huge impact on global warming,” Costa said. “As the second largest gas-producing state in the nation, it is imperative that Pennsylvania do all it can to reduce methane emissions.”
Fontana added, “While our federal government should be taking the lead on developing policies, emissions reduction goals and coordinating a national response on climate change, our president’s shameful abandonment of the Paris climate accord makes it imperative that state leaders take the helm on this critical issue.”
Methane is an odorless, colorless, flammable greenhouse gas (CH4) that is used as fuel. It is also an important source of hydrogen and part of a wide variety of organic compounds. Methane is a huge component of natural gas and can remain in the atmosphere for about 9 to 15 years.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, methane warms our planet 86 times more than carbon emissions. Earlier this month, Andrew Williams, who serves as director of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund, criticized the Pennsylvania State Department of Environmental Protection’s revised draft rule because it would only mandate the capture of 21 percent of methane emissions. If the rule were adopted, Williams claims Pennsylvania would have the least protective methane rule in the nation.
Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh), who chairs the committee, argued that the issue should not pit Pennsylvania’s environment against its economy.
“Controlling carbon emissions and building a strong economy are not competing interests,” she said. “As alternative energy sources become more reliable, affordable and efficient, we must be ready to embrace and capitalize on the economic opportunities that accompany these promising technological advances. This doesn’t need to be framed as some dire choice between poverty and pollution.
In withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord in 2017, President Donald Trump defended his decision by claiming he was “elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” Costa and Fontana (D-Allegheny) immediately criticized the president’s decision.
In the accord, the United States had committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below the 2005 level in 2025, and to make “best efforts” to reduce emissions by 28 percent. That would include curbs on carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride and nitrogen trifluoride, all of which contribute to global warming.
Several state bills and proposals were introduced to supplement existing environmental protection efforts included in the decade-old Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) and Energy Efficiency and Conservation law (Act 129).
Williams urged the legislature to support Gov. Tom Wolf’s greenhouse gas reduction commitments, implement a viable methane existing source regulation and defend the Department of Environmental Protection’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases.
Rob Altenburg, Director, PennFuture Energy Center, said, “The natural gas industry is going to be part of the Pennsylvania economy for many years, but we are no longer in an era where we can ignore pollution as a natural consequence of economic growth. Avoiding the worst impacts of global warming requires that we remain under a set carbon budget – and that means that any additional emissions from the natural gas sector are emissions we will need to account for later or face the costs.
Arvind Ravikumar, an Assistant Professor of Energy Engineering for the University of Harrisburg, told the senators, “With the profusion of new technology in the methane space, falling costs for renewable energy, and competitive electric vehicle prices, protecting the environment almost becomes secondary to the potential for thousands of high-paying, clean energy jobs. The best way to give Pennsylvania businesses and industry a leg up is to help them prepare for the transition through well-crafted, cost-effective state policies.”
Today’s hearing was the second in a series of Policy Committee hearings on climate change. The committee held a hearing in Pittsburgh last November, focusing on carbon emissions.
Joining Fontana, Costa and Boscola at the hearing were Senators Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny) and Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland).
Hearing participants included the following:
- Andrew Williams, Director of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs, Environmental Defense Fund;
- Rebecca Kiernan, Senior Resilience Coordinator, City of Pittsburgh;
- Arvind Ravikumar, Assistant Professor of Energy Engineering, University of Harrisburg of Science and Technology;
- Jared Metcalf, USA Operations Manager, Target Emission Services;
- Rob Altenburg, Director, PennFuture Energy Center; and
- Jane Worthington and Dale Tiberie, residents of Washington County. (4)
Again, make no mistake that this hearing was not about actually solving a problem. The problem doesn’t exist, so how can you solve it! It was about ginning up a faux issue so Democrats can regulate the shale industry out of existence. That’s the takeaway from yesterday’s crafest.
(1) Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette (Apr 23, 2019) – Emotional speakers beg for stronger controls on methane emissions
(2) Harrisburg & Philadelphia (PA) StateImpact Pennsylvania (Apr 23, 2019) – Methane hearing draws concern over state rules, talk of promising new technology
(3) Pennsylvania Capital-Star (Apr 23, 2019) – Environmental proponents to state Senate panel: Pa. needs better methane regulations
(4) Pennsylvania State Sen. Lisa Boscola (Apr 23, 2019) – State Senate Committee Holds Second Hearing on Global Warming
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