WASHINGTON— More than 400 groups, representing tens of millions of people, petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency today to control harmful methane and ethane emissions that are the largest industrial source of compounds causing ozone pollution, also known as smog.
Some 125 million people in the United States live in areas with smog levels that are consistently above what the EPA considers to be allowable. And although the outsized contributions that methane and ethane emissions from oil and fracked-gas operations make to smog are well documented, the agency has failed to require the use of widely available, updated technology to prevent emissions of those and other air pollutants.
“The rapid expansion of the fracking and petrochemical industries has come at the tragic price of millions of asthma attacks and widespread damage to our national parks,” said Robert Ukeiley, an environmental health attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re asking the Biden administration to close the EPA loophole that has allowed unchecked methane and ethane pollution to enable this tragedy.”
Ozone pollution can cause human health problems like asthma attacks and even death. For every year that ozone pollution violates the national standards, up to 390,000 more asthma attacks will occur in children, according to the EPA. Smog also hurts forests and wildlife.
A 2021 survey of western voters spanning the political spectrum found that 91% support requiring oil and methane gas companies to use updated equipment and technology to prevent leaks of methane gas and other pollution into the air. Methane and ethane are also released by the petrochemical industry, which is concentrated in a part of the Gulf Coast known as “Cancer Alley” and in the Appalachian region.
“The regulatory sleight of hand that this petition is trying to end enabled the extreme fossil fuel extraction industry, which is just the latest chapter in a long history of the U.S. government failing to treat this land and its peoples with the respect and dignity they are so clearly deserving of,” said Mati Waiya, founder and executive director of the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation. “There has been a lot of talk from the current leadership of the U.S. government, but the petition presents an opportunity for actual action representing one small step to live up to that rhetoric.”
In 1977 the EPA decided to allow unlimited emissions of methane and ethane pollution, based on the best science that was available at that time. But in the subsequent nearly half-century, science has provided a much better understanding of how methane and ethane contribute to smog formation.
“Exempting methane and ethane from the list of volatile organic compounds in the Clean Air Act is a massive loophole that must be closed if we are truly going to fight climate change and protect the health of our people,” said Alex Cole, community organizer at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “Fossil fuel companies are currently putting an unfair burden onto the communities in which they operate and closing this loophole will quite literally save and enhance lives.”
In recent years the amount of methane and ethane pollution has skyrocketed in the United States. This is mainly due to the widespread use of fracking to get oil and methane gas out of the ground and the corresponding buildout of the petrochemical complex and plastic production.
“According to the Bible, God breathes life into being. Permitting harmful air pollution is a sinful transgression of the sacred,” said Allen Johnson, cofounder of Christians for the Mountains. “We call on those who love God and all life to press for regulation of harmful ethane and methane emissions.”