New Report on the Dangers of Methane Gas

This report was written and supported by 64 organizations and covers the climate, health, and economic risks of “natural” methane gas. Read the press release here and the full report here

Media Coverage

Talking Points

City of Eugene Climate Recovery Ordinance:

In order to meet the goals of the Climate Recovery Ordinance (CRO) the City of Eugene must:

  • Ban gas infrastructure or gas hook ups in new construction in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings 
  • Incentivize electric appliances and fuel switch from gas appliances
  • Require NW Gas not be allowed to incentivize gas hook ups or appliances
  • Require NW Gas incentivize customer reduce use of gas or purchase emission offsets provided by NW Gas Smart Energy Program
  • Regulate purchases and installation of gas fueled appliances in Eugene
  • Require NW Gas to fuel switch to biogas and renewable hydrogen with penalties for not meeting annual incremental goals of 5% per year
  • Increase franchise fee and dedicate funds to implement programs that provide incentives to fuel switch from gas to electric
  • Increase franchise fees to NW Gas and require carbon reduction fees that cannot be passed on to the consumer
  • Require franchise agreement be 5-10 years with a review at 3 years

“Natural” fracked gas as a “transition fuel”:

  • Fracked gas is often referred to as a “transition fuel” or “bridge fuel” to fill the gap as we transition towards renewable energy. Fracked gas does produce significantly less CO2 emissions than coal or oil, however the production of fracked gas produces a lot of methane – which is 86 times more potent than CO2 in a 20-year period (UCSUSA).
  • It is unclear exactly how much methane is being leaked, but based on current evidence, it is likely that the total leakage exceeds the 3.2% threshold, beyond which gas becomes worse for the climate than coal for at least some period of time (PNAS).
  • There is no need to adding fracked gas infrastructure in Eugene when we have access to almost 100% renewable electricity (EWEB).

Fossil fuels and air pollution deaths: 

  • Fossil fuels are responsible for 40% of all global deaths from air pollution according to a new peer-reviewed study. “These numbers are staggering,” noted a Forbes piece about the study. 10,000 people die per day, or 3.6 million per year, from fossil fuel pollution, rivaling deaths from tobacco smoking. 
  • In California alone, air pollution from fossil fuels causes an estimated 12,000 deaths every year. 
  • Studies have linked fine pollution particles called PM2.5 to many other detrimental health effects, including aggravated asthma and decreased lung function, according to the U.S. EPA. Fossil fuel refining and automobile exhaust are major sources of PM2.5

Air pollution and Covid-19: 

  • Research at Harvard University shows a strong relationship between exposure to air pollution and mortality from COVID-19. For every slight increase in the pollutant PM2.5 there is an 8% increase in the death rate from COVID-19, and communities of color are more likely to be exposed to this pollutant long term. 
  • Black and Latino people are especially vulnerable to COVID, and are more likely to live in communities with higher air pollution. Articles from the Guardian and the New York Times show the much higher death rate from COVID-19 for Black people across the nation and for Black and Latino people in New York City. The Environmental Working Group says: “Studies have clearly established that communities of color are disproportionately exposed to sharply higher levels of long-term air pollution because they are closer to congested streets and highways, as well as refineries and power plants. A 2011 study by researchers at the University of Southern California and the RAND Corporation found that African Americans in California were 2.5 times more likely to go to the hospital as a result of air pollution. That may help explain why African Americans make up a disproportionate share of COVID-19 deaths in many areas.”

Gas threatens indoor air quality and community safety:

  • Gas appliances lead to toxic indoor air. A UCLA study commissioned by the Sierra Club showed that exhaust from gas appliances produces carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide exposures that exceed national and California standards in 90% of the homes modeled. 
  • The impact from gas appliances is worse in smaller households, especially smaller apartments, disproportionately harming low-income people. As the Sierra Club put it, “the air quality inside nearly every apartment was so bad that it would be illegal if measured outside.” 
  • Gas infrastructure increases health and safety risks to communities. Storage wells, operating pipelines, and cut pipelines threaten community health and safety in California and across the country, and gas leaks and explosions threaten first responders as well as occupants.

From the Oregon Global Warming Commission 2020 Biennial Report:

With fewer options regarding where to live and work, and how to commute, lower-income and other disadvantaged Oregonians face greater exposure to environmental and climate-related risks. For example, several toxic air pollutants are produced when greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere—from sources such as fossil-fueled power plants, industrial facilities, and fuel-combusting motor vehicles. Studies show that communities of color and low-income households are more likely to be exposed to these air pollutants, which have been shown to cause and amplify respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses. Oregonians with household incomes less than $20,000 are nearly three times as likely to have a heart attack as those with incomes above $50,000, and Black and Indigenous people have a higher prevalence of heart attacks than other racial and ethnic groups in the state. (citation)

Low-income and disadvantaged households also have fewer resources to plan for, and recover from, climate impacts. For example, as the 2020 fire season showed, many vulnerable populations have housing that is less resilient to wildfire smoke and jobs that require them to work/commute outdoors during wildfire events, outbreaks of which are becoming more prevalent as the number and severity of wildfires grow. Wildfire smoke poses serious health threats, including asthma attacks, breathing problems, eye/lung/throat irritation, heart disease, and premature death. These health risks are particularly dangerous for Oregonians with preexisting respiratory and cardiovascular conditions and vulnerable groups, such as children and elderly, pregnant, and disabled residents. As greenhouse gases continue to be emitted, amplifying a wide range of climate hazards—from wildfires to floods, heatwaves, and droughts—, vulnerable and disadvantaged communities face unequal damages on multiple fronts.

Other points:

  • Gas cooktops and gas stoves create toxic indoor air quality levels 2-100 times greater than outdoor levels because they are the only gas appliances not required to be vented
  • These appliances emit formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, and PM 2.5
  • Malfunctioning gas appliances release carbon monoxide, an invisible, odorless gas that can cause death
  • Research shows these two gas appliances produce twice as much PM 2.5 particulates as electric cooking
  • These indoor air toxin emissions lead to cardio pulmonary diseases, asthma, diabetes, and respiratory illnesses that affect children acutely
  • One study found children in homes with gas stoves have a 42% higher chance of having asthma symptoms
  • An Australian study attributed 12% of all childhood asthma burden to gas stoves
  • Renters have little control over appliances they use and many homeowners cannot afford to upgrade to new efficient electric induction stoves
  • Exhaust hoods are regularly installed but not mandated and most are inefficient
  • Costs of proper ventilation means low income communities bare the brunt of gas stove pollution where these households have less space, more occupants, and poorer ventilation sometimes using gas stoves for heat in the winter when furnaces malfunction