Oil and gas air pollution rollbacks strongly opposed at Environmental Protection Agency hearing

Pictured: Oil and gas infrastructure, like this pipe junction on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, leaks an estimated 13 million metric tons of methane nationwide.(Photo: Western Organizations of Resource Councils)

Proposal to gut critical air pollution standards puts public health and natural resources in jeopardy

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Western Organizations of Resource Councils

A proposal to gut the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for oil and gas industry air pollution from methane and volatile organic compounds was met by opposition from impacted communities, oil companies, and experts at a public hearing in Dallas, Texas, today. The proposed rule would entirely remove air pollution standards for methane across the industry, remove all air pollution rules for the transmission and storage sector, and make it more difficult to regulate any industry in the future. Members of Northern Plains Resource Council from Montana and Dakota Resource Council in North Dakota travelled across the country to advocate for the broadly supported 2016 EPA Methane Rules to remain in effect.

The 2016 rules were designed to address and minimize leaking of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from new and modified oil and gas wells and associated infrastructure such as compressor stations and transport lines. In 2015, the oil and gas sector wasted an estimated 13 million metric tons of methane due to leaks. Methane from the oil and gas industry comes packaged with other pollutants: volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are a key ingredient in ground-level ozone (smog); and a number of pollutants known as “air toxics” – in particular,the carcinogens: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. 

"When my family in Colorado negotiated a new land use agreement for 14 horizontal wells, we did not have to worry about air pollution because of the common-sense rules in place in Colorado. Where I live in Montana, development has occurred for 60 years but air pollution protections are nearly non-existent,” said Sue Beug, member of Northern Plains Resource Council, from Red Lodge, Montana. “We do not want to be a state where developers come because the rules are weaker. Uniform rules for all states that protect clean air are essential.” 

Montana has some of the weakest natural gas waste and methane regulations in the country according to a 2018 report from Taxpayers for Common Sense and The Wilderness Society, and North Dakota does not have any state-level safeguards to curb methane pollution from oil and gas activities. Federal standards like the EPA rules are vital to protecting public health and ensuring a fair return for taxpayers and mineral owners. Companies such as BP and Exxon favor the regulatory certainty provided by strong federal rules. 

“Over the past ten years, I’ve watched oil and gas turn our reservation into an industrial zone. It’s totally changed our way of life,” said Lisa DeVille, member of DRC and Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights, from Mandaree, North Dakota. “Fort Berthold, North Dakota, and America need the EPA’s rules to protect us from methane and other harmful air pollution resulting from oil and gas activities,”  

“Residents of the Fort Berthold Reservation and across North Dakota are already paying the price for oil and gas leaking and venting, and they will continue to do so if we get rid of our vital pollution safeguards,” Deville said. “Oil and gas industry pollution is dangerous; we know if the federal pollution standards are rolled back, millions across the country will face the same unfair health challenges already impacting Native Americans in the region.” 

According to the latest report from Lynn Helms, North Dakota’s Director of Mineral Resources, drillers are now flaring roughly 24 percent of the gas produced in the Bakken, which is twice as high as state limits. Protecting the health of our people should be a requirement, not a ‘voluntary goal’ for oil and gas companies. 

In North Dakota, 11,360 people live within ½ mile of active oil and gas wells, compressors and processors. In Montana, 10,852 people live within ½ mile of active oil and gas wells, compressors and processors. 

Northern Plains Resource Council is a grassroots conservation and family agriculture group that organizes Montanans to protect our water quality, family farms and ranches, and unique quality of life.

Dakota Resource Council is a grassroots organization promoting sustainable use of North Dakota’s natural resources and family-owned and operated agriculture by building member-led local groups that empower people to influence the decision-making processes that affect their lives and communities. 

The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is a network of grassroots organizations that span seven Western states with more than 15,000 members. Many WORC members live on lands overlying and neighboring federal, tribal, state and privately owned oil and gas deposits, and experience impacts of federal oil and gas production. Headquartered in Billings, Montana, WORC also has offices in Colorado and Washington, D.C.

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