We need health protections from unrestricted methane gas waste

Sue Beug

The following is the testimony that Sue Beug, a member of Carbon County Resource Council and a Northern Plains leader on oil and gas issues, gave July 10 at an EPA hearing in Washington, D.C.

My name is Susann Beug and I live in Red Lodge, Montana. I am also part owner of our family farm in Weld County Colorado with oil and gas development since 1972. I am here as a member of the Oil and Gas Task Force of the Western Organizations of Resource Councils and Northern Plains Resource Council to speak out in opposition to EPA’s proposed delay of its June 2016 new source performance standards for the oil and gas industry. I appreciate the opportunity to give public comment as a part of our democratic process.

The EPA is taking public comment on the proposed two-year delay of the methane waste rule through Aug. 9.
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My father was born, raised, lived, and died on our family farm in Weld County, Colorado. He farmed the land, raised livestock and also worked for the Soil Conservation Service. He loved the land and air and water and always worked to be a good steward of them. With the first oil boom in the early ’70s in Weld County my dad negotiated a lease on the farm which included a set back from the farm’s two houses and a provision for drilling activity only between November 1st and April 1st so as not to disrupt the crop growing season. These were the only things he was aware of that would impact his way of life so he protected them. He wasn’t aware of the many other issues such as leaking gases.

Fast forward to 2017 and another oil and gas boom in Weld County. With the original lease still in effect our family has recently completed a new land use agreement for 14 horizontal wells with many more requirements to protect our family’s health and lifestyle. In the new land use agreement we did not have to deal with methane issues because of the oil and gas development regulations already in place in Colorado. Our family will not have to worry about leaks of methane and associated dangerous VOC gases because of Colorado’s regulations. With one of the planned drilling pads less than 1,000 feet from my mother’s home this is especially important to me because my mother is on oxygen and very sensitive to air pollution. The last thing she wants to do is have to leave her home and move to another location because of the threat of leaks from the planned wells.

Pit flaring

Here, in Montana where I live, we have no rules that directly address methane leaks from oil and gas wells. Despite the fact that we have had oil and gas development in this area for well over 60 years we have few regulations on how it is done. I have regularly attended our state oil and gas board meetings for over three years and have seen how developers take advantage of our lax regulations.  We in Montana need the leak detection and repair rule to put us on a more level playing field. Going forward we do not want to be a state, where developers want to come to because they know they won’t have to follow the same industry standards set by other states. Uniform rules covering all states are essential.

The regulations set by Colorado are very similar to the EPA rule. Implementation of the Colorado regulations did not result in a slow down or decrease in drilling and are accepted as standard industry practice there. The costs to the industry have been minimal at most and in many cases has increased revenues for the company, increasing tax payments and preventing the loss of a valuable resource. Wyoming, our southern neighbor, has regulations similar to Colorado with similar results. It is unreasonable to allow new wells or modified wells to continue to leak methane when affordable leak technology is readily available. Oil and gas companies could comply with the EPA’s rule incredibly cheaply. By cutting methane emissions by 40 percent the cost of production for every thousand cubic feet would only increase by a penny. Any costs to the industry associated with the methane capture would be more than offset by savings on health care for those living in areas of oil and gas development. It’s unconscionable to allow an industry to risk the health and wellbeing of vulnerable populations, such as children and seniors, by not controlling the release of methane and associated gases for only a slight increase in profits. Also consider the environmental costs. With methane having 86 times the warming power of CO2 it is a major climate disrupter and we have already seen some of the costs associated with our changing climate. We can’t afford any delay.