Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance Applauds Final EPA Methane Rule

Today, as the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) is convened to address the real and growing risks and threats associated with climate change, the Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance (MESA) thanks President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan for finalizing EPA’s Section 111 Methane Rule, announced over the weekend. This is a critical action and solution to address the climate crisis. MESA applauds this announcement and supports this action. MESA has been working for many years to encourage this and other related actions, and further encourages the State of Utah to develop its own strong implementation and enforcement plans to better protect Utah communities from the impacts of oil and gas waste and pollution.

“Everyone’s health is at risk when methane is allowed to leak into the environment, not only because it directly hurts our bodies, but because of the impact it has on the climate, including higher temperatures and unstable weather patterns,” says MESA Board Vice-Chair, Page Checketts. “We can and must do more to minimize these impacts in our communities.”

The oil and gas industry is the country’s largest industrial source of methane emissions, with natural gas being wasted through venting, flaring, and leaks, impacting the climate, energy security, public health and prosperity. Oil and gas operators in Utah wasted 16 billion cubic feet of natural gas through leaks, flaring, and venting in 2019, according to a recent analysis from Synapse Energy Economics—enough lost gas to meet the annual needs of more than a fifth of the state’s residential gas customers.

In a related announcement, nearly 50 oil and gas companies signed onto a “decarbonization charter” at the opening of COP28, committing to reduce the ratio of methane released to fuels produced to 0.2% by 2030, by capturing gas instead of flaring it. Standards to reduce routine flaring is a key provision of the EPA rule, and MESA is pleased to see industries’ growing indications of support for commensurate action. For reference, the current methane intensity of U.S. oil and gas production is about 2.5%.

EPA’s methane rule will also require inspections at all well sites regardless of production (including the use of optical gas imaging cameras at wells with leak-prone equipment) and require the installation of zero-polluting equipment known as zero-bleed pneumatic devices, which is especially important in Utah where 87 percent of the total natural gas waste comes from leaks.

“The EPA has taken an important action to live up to their public responsibility to address oil and gas pollution with its final methane rule,” said Soren Simonsen, MESA Board Member and Methane Rule lead organizer, and long time air quality and climate change champion in Utah. “There is nothing more fundamental to life than safeguarding our atmosphere and the air we breathe. This means caring for our environment and for each other through strong and reasonable protections, using our natural resources with wisdom and prudence, and without unnecessary and harmful waste.”

Ozone pollution and climate impacts from methane emissions pose a growing threat to Utah. Oil and gas leaks, venting, and flaring emit ozone-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and ozone can trigger asthma attacks, worsen other respiratory diseases such as emphysema, and is a leading factor in heart diseases. In addition, oil and gas operations also release hazardous air pollutants such as benzene that is proven to cause cancer, putting those living closest to oil and gas operations at the greatest risk. Methane also is a powerful greenhouse gas that is a significant contributor to global warming.

“The rule includes important provisions such as inspections at small wells with leak-prone equipment, advancing technology monitoring, requiring inspections at abandoned wells, and it begins to address routine flaring. Utah’s Uintah Basin has some of the worst methane pollution in the nation, and we look forward to working with the Utah’s air quality leaders to reduce the impacts of oil and gas waste and pollution, improve the health and well being of individuals and families, and secure a cleaner energy future,” Simonsen said.

Tom Elder and Rod Aycock, Founders of Uintah Basin Citizens Concerned About Climate Change, a key MESA partner working on local action in the UintaH Basin, add, “As long-time residents in an oil and gas community, members of the Uintah Basin Citizens Concerned About Climate Change know the impacts of methane emissions on our environment, health, and quality of life. In addition to the need to lower these emissions for health reasons, we also need effective solutions to climate change. Methane is an important driver of climate change, so we strongly support the EPA’s new rule.

This regulation aligns with our commitment to a sustainable future for the Uintah Basin, and reflects our dedication to ensuring a cleaner, healthier community for generations to come.”Now, with the rule in place, work begins to ensure strong implementation and enforcement in order to better protect communities from the impacts of oil and gas. Once the final rule is published, the State of Utah will have 18 months to develop an effective state plan. If it fails to do so, or the state plan is not approved, the EPA will implement the federal plan in Utah instead.

The Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance is a community of Latter-day Saints (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), friends and allies, who find faith-affirming work in advocating for environmental stewardship and conservation action, both to improve the well being of communities and societies, and to care for each other and for all living things.