By Brian Nearing
The Albany Times-Union
ALBANY — New York and six other Northeastern states are threatening to sue the Obama administration for allegedly violating its own air pollution rules by ignoring methane emissions from oil and gas production, including the hydrofracking drilling method being reviewed in this state.
A potent greenhouse gas that contributes to man-made climate change, methane was absent from updated rules covering the fossil fuel industry under the Clean Air Act unveiled this summer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“We simply can’t continue to ignore evidence of climate change or the catastrophic threat that unabated greenhouse gas pollution poses to our families, our communities and our economy,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Tuesday.
New York was joined by Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Maryland, Rhode Island and Delaware. The coalition jointly filed a notice that it will sue the EPA in federal court within 60 days unless the federal government moves to include methane rules.
An EPA spokeswoman said the agency would review the filing. When EPA announced its rules, the agency left open the door to addressing methane, saying it would “continue to evaluate the appropriateness of regulating methane with an eye toward taking additional steps if appropriate.”
New York has spent more than four years reviewing whether to allow natural gas hydrofracking, a technique that relies on pumping a high-pressure blend of chemicals, sand and water deep underground to release trapped gas.
A new set of proposed state regulations was released last month, opening the possibility that a decision could be reached sometime next year. Opponents of hydrofracking claim it threatens air and water quality, while the industry insists it can be done safely.
In 2009, the EPA reported that “oil and gas operations were the second-largest industrial source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, behind only electric power plants,” according to the legal notice filed by the states.
Methane composes about 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, behind carbon dioxide.
EPA also reported that greenhouse gases, including methane, were a threat to the public by causing “increased air and ocean temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, melting and thawing of global glaciers and ice, increasingly severe weather events — such as hurricanes of greater intensity — and sea level rise.”
Natural gas and petroleum systems account for more than a third of all methane emissions in the U.S, according to EPA. Methane is released into the atmosphere during production, processing, storage, transmission and distribution of natural gas, EPA found.
Other sources of methane include landfills and domestic livestock, and coal mining.
“While it is clear that methane from oil and natural gas development contributes substantially to climate change pollution, regulators have failed to require the industry to use available and cost-effective measures to control these emissions,” Schneiderman said.
Methane warms the climate about 20 times more than carbon dioxide, although its effect in the atmosphere is shorter, according to EPA. Methane persists in the atmosphere for about 12 years, while carbon dioxide can last for up to 200 years.
In August 2012, EPA revised air pollution regulations on the oil and natural gas industry for the first time since 1985. The Clean Air Act requires that EPA revisit its rules every eight years for possible changes; in 2009, a coalition of environmental groups sued EPA to force the agency to act.
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