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Health, Science & Environment

What new methane regulations mean for Ohio

A green piece of machinery sits behind a chicken wire-type fence. The background is a rocky hill with bare trees.
James St. John
This oil well in eastern Licking County is one of tens of thousands oil and gas wells across Ohio.

Methane regulations from the U.S. EPA went into effect this month. They’re meant to limit the amount of accidental emissions from oil and gas operators across the country.

The EPA’s rule includes a suite of measures to reduce and detect methane leaks from the oil and gas supply chain, like regular inspection schedules and equipment standardization.

Why methane?

Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. But John Rutecki with the Environmental Defense Fund said it has 80 times the warming potential compared to the number one gas, carbon dioxide.

“Obviously CO2 is still a concern, but methane was kind of the invisible, un-talked about thing. And now there's been a lot of research showing that it's driving about a quarter of the warming that we're experiencing today,” Rutecki said.

University of Cincinnati professor Amy Townsend-Small said reducing this greenhouse gas could reduce climate change impacts on communities globally.

An increase in methane emissions leads to a rapid increase in temperatures that's harder to adapt to. And climate change impacts are costing the government more and more every year,” she said.

The EPA says the oil and natural gas sector is the largest industrial source of methane emissions in the country; that its leaks are fairly easy to prevent compared to other sources; and that the rule will reduce methane emissions within that industry by 80% in 14 years.

“And then along with that, we will also be eliminating about 16 million tons of pollution that contributes to unhealthy levels of smog, as well as nearly 600,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants like benzene,” said Tomás Carbonell from the U.S. EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

While newer oil and gas facilities were subject to this rule starting May 7, longer-standing facilities have more time to meet requirements.

“States have two years to develop plans that contain limits for existing facilities and that are consistent with the rule that we've put forward,” said Carbonell.

The Ohio EPA is the agency responsible for Ohio’s plan. The OEPA declined a request for an interview, but in an emailed statement a spokesperson said the agency will be developing its own implementation plan to meet that deadline.

What Ohioans can expect

Rutecki with the Environmental Defense Fund said many Ohioans live within a half-mile of an oil and gas well, so these regulations will have immediate positive impacts for Ohioans’ air quality.

“Everyone stands to benefit from this, from a public health and climate perspective, and an economic perspective as well, because this is going to increase jobs in the methane mitigation sector,” said Rutecki. “Sometimes I've called it like the triple win for climate, public health and energy security.”

And Ohio has a significant role to play in the bigger picture, too.

“Ohio's the seventh largest natural gas producing state, 10th largest oil producing state. So obviously we'll have a large impact from an emissions reduction standpoint,” Rutecki continued.

What about other methane sources?

Rob Brundrett, president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said their industry has already been working to reduce methane leaks.

“The methane is the product. That's what the majority of natural gas is,” Brundrett said. “So you don't want leaks because that costs you money because that's what you sell as a product to everyone.”

In Brundrett’s view, that makes them an unfit target for regulation.

“Our members have consistently been trying to reduce emissions, through equipment upgrades and new drilling technologies since really the beginning of oil and gas here in Ohio,” he said.

Brundrett said it would be more effective to regulate sources that haven’t made similar headway, like natural wetlands, the coal industry and the agricultural sector.

But experts say that sort of regulation can be trickier to pull off. To curb farms’ methane emissions, for instance, would likely take a reduction of livestock, which could affect food supply or prices, said Townsend-Small.

While the U.S. EPA hasn’t adopted any regulatory programs around methane mitigation in the agricultural sector, Carbonell said the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working to reduce those emissions.

In the meantime, oil and gas operators in Ohio will be adjusting to the new methane regulations. All operators should be in compliance by March 2029.

Adriana Martinez-Smiley (she/they) is the Environment and Indigenous Affairs Reporter for WYSO.
Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.