Medical & Public Health Groups Oppose Natural Gas Waste

Sen. Tom Udall defends protections from methane emissions during remarks on the Senate floor. Photo courtesy C-SPAN

The Senate failed today to repeal a rule that curbs methane leaks from oil and gas wells on public lands. The effort would have overturned protections established under President Barack Obama last November.

“This is a victory for public health,” said Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of APHA. “Upholding the rule keeps wasteful methane leaks in check, but more importantly keeps safeguards in place to protect Americans from hazardous pollutants, including a strong contributor to climate change.”

APHA joined other health groups in signing on to a letter to senators in February in support of the rule. Methane and volatile organic compounds are released during natural gas and oil extraction, the groups wrote. These hazardous air pollutants include benzene, a known human carcinogen; ethylbenzene, a probable carcinogen; and toluene, a neurotoxin that may also cause miscarriages and birth defects.

In addition, “methane itself is a highly potent driver of climate change, one of the greatest threats to public health in our time,” the groups wrote. “Methane is an extremely powerful heat-trapping gas; over its first 20 years in the atmosphere, it is 84 times more effective at retaining heat than is carbon dioxide.”

The vote blocking repeal was lauded by public health advocates.

“Today’s vote means that an important solution to reducing venting, flaring and leaking of methane and other hazardous pollutants will likely be upheld, which will help protect the health of our families,” said Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, in a statement.

The rule remains in place for now. The Interior Department will eventually review the measure as a result of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump.