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Wyoming Proposes Its Own Methane Regulations As Federal Level Sees Rules Relaxed


In Wyoming, state officials are proposing new rules to limit methane emissions. The Big Oil and gas state is doing this as the Trump administration has relaxed its own such rules, and as a U.N. climate report urges countries to dramatically cut greenhouse gases. From Wyoming Public Radio and NPR's energy and environment team, Cooper McKim reports.

COOPER MCKIM, BYLINE: A decade ago, Pinedale, Wyo., had a big problem with methane. It's an area with a lot of oil and gas, and leaks were creating smog. Nearby schools kept certain kids inside during recess some days. Residents complained of headaches. Dave Hohl remembers going cross-country skiing and seeing a brown tinge in the air. We spoke last year.


DAVE HOHL: I remember I was in bed for a week or so with something like the flu, it felt like. But it didn't seem like the flu.

MCKIM: Methane-produced ozone was above legal limits, so a Wyoming agency eventually required stricter guidelines. And it did lower emissions, but only in that small area. But with federal rules uncertain, Wyoming has decided it needs to do more.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Thank you all for coming.

MCKIM: At a recent public hearing, residents debated a proposal to expand the state's regulations on emissions including methane, since oil and gas is in nearly every county. Dawn Dungan says she feels the effects.

DAWN DUNGAN: Some nights, I wake up, and I have the gas in my house. There have been times when it's been so black in there that I can't even see the closet.

MCKIM: The conversation around a stricter statewide methane rule suddenly seems more urgent with the Trump administration's rollbacks. Jon Goldstein is with the Environmental Defense Fund.

JON GOLDSTEIN: It's going to leave eastern Wyoming, where 80 percent of the drilling in Wyoming is currently happening, without the benefit of these measures.

MCKIM: Which he says is worrisome with thousands of new wells planned to come online soon. Wyoming's proposed changes would mimic a central part of Obama-era methane rules - semi-annual inspections for oil and gas in search of invisible leaks that emit methane. Wyoming would join only two other states with comprehensive methane-emission rules - California and Colorado. At Wyoming's Department of Environmental Quality, Nancy Vehr says the proposed rules are needed regardless of the federal rollbacks.

NANCY VEHR: We're doing this because it's the right thing to do for Wyoming under our technical analysis of all the information we have.

MCKIM: Surprisingly, the oil and gas industry, which opposed the Obama administration's federal regulations, supports the state's moves. On a windy day at a productive 5-acre well pad, Superintendent Trey Webb of Wold Energy Partners says regular inspections catching natural gas leaks would be no problem. Walking up a metal stairway to a massive oil storage tank, he says they've already caught leaks using a special infrared camera.

TREY WEBB: It'll identify any problems that you can't see, you know, just with the naked eye, or being able to hear it or something.

MCKIM: Company President Peter Wold says he had to invest in more expensive equipment when federal regulations went into place. But he says it's worth it if it keeps valuable gas from leaking.

PETER WOLD: I mean, one of the basic reasons is that we want to sell all this gas. We're not interested in having it vented.

MCKIM: In fact, since 2013, the U.S. has missed out on over $2 billion worth of leaked natural gas. But the Trump administration argues that captured natural gas would not pay off. That compliance and implementation is too expensive. In any case, Wold prefers answering to Wyoming.

WOLD: We always believe that the closer regulation to the individual, whether it's from the county or from the state, it's better than having it regulated by the government.

MCKIM: Federal.

WOLD: Washington D.C.

MCKIM: Pennsylvania and Virginia are also working on their own methane regulations. Meanwhile, it's not clear if the federal rollbacks will actually happen. They face legal challenges. For NPR News, I'm Cooper McKim. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cooper McKim