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Groups urge EPA's Pruitt to keep methane rule, citing air, market benefits

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Groups urge EPA's Pruitt to keep methane rule, citing air, market benefits

Emphasizing near-term health impacts and economic motivators, dozens of groups asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to keep methane emissions rules in place for the oil and gas industry.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced April 18 that the agency would stay and reconsider an Obama-era finalized rule that would put limits on methane emissions and other co-emitted pollutants from new oil and gas sources. Originally supposed to go into effect June 3, the rule is now on hold for at least 90 days past the planned compliance date.

"This stay will increase health risks for numerous Americans living in close proximity to wells and other facilities, which will emit significant amounts of additional hazardous and smog-forming pollution that would otherwise have been reduced," the Environmental Defense Fund and more than 60 other groups said in a May 25 letter to Pruitt. "Further, the stay will cause the waste of substantial volumes of valuable natural gas."

At the time the stay was issued, Pruitt said, "American businesses should have the opportunity to review new requirements, assess economic impacts and report back, before those new requirements are finalized."

The rule would have companies start more aggressive leak detection and repair programs. Leak reductions would reduce the release of toxic air pollutants, including benzene and other carcinogens, and limit volatile organic compounds, which contribute heavily to ground-level smog. Staying the regulation would allow health risks to communities, families and workers to persist and grow, according to the conservation, public health, labor and faith organizations that wrote to Pruitt. The Clean Air Act positions the EPA to ensure that all Americans are protected from sources of harmful pollution, the organizations said.

Using methane detection and capture technology is expected to be cost-effective, with a minimal impact on drillers' finances and allowing more gas to be captured and sold in the marketplace, the letter said. The regulation could even add jobs, the organizations argued.

"[G]reater adoption of methane mitigation practices will help to put Americans to work in the methane mitigation industry, which represents over 130 U.S. companies with locations in almost every state, helping to recover otherwise wasted natural gas," the letter said. "The stay will harm companies that provide methane mitigation technologies and services — 60% of which are small businesses."