Your Environment Update for August 20, 2015

  • Penn State honeybee researcher Maryann Frazier checks on one of her experimental honeybee hives. Frazier is helping beekepers breed stronger bees that have natural resistance to the mites that are the number one killer of honeybees. (Photo: Lou Blouin)

EPA Looks to Reduce Methane Emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new rule this week to reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas drilling. And it could have big impacts in Pennsylvania, the nation’s second-biggest gas producer.

Natural gas has been hailed as a lower-carbon fuel than coal, but its production emits methane—a potent greenhouse gas linked to climate change. The EPA’s proposed rule aims to cut methane from oil and gas production by 45 percent from 2012 levels over the next 10 years. Joe Minott of Clean Air Council says it could also cut other pollution, including the kind that creates ozone, or smog.

“It is, from a public health point of view, a win-win-win,” Minott says.

The drilling industry as a whole has panned the new EPA rule, saying the proposal is unnecessary and costly. George Stark of Cabot Oil and Gas says his company has already cut its emissions—by 85 percent in recent years—because it’s in their financial interest.

“We are a company that produces natural  gas—methane. We don't have a real strong desire to allow it to vent to the atmosphere,” he says.

The federal rules mainly address emissions from new oil and gas operations. Clean Air Council’s Joe Minott also wants the state to tighten emissions from existing infrastructure.

“Clearly the operations that are already happening in Pennsylvania and other states are emitting a lot of methane and that needs to be addressed,” Minott says.

The Department of Environmental Protection says it is looking at ways to reduce methane leaks from the gas industry.

Reporting by Reid Frazier

Building a Better Honeybee

Honeybees have almost become an annual crop. In fact, bee die-offs are so common now that beekeepers generally just order more bees when they lose a hive. But researchers and backyard beekeepers are teaming up to build a tougher honeybee. In particular, they’re trying to breed a bee that can beat the parasite that’s been a massive problem since the 1990s.

“In 1997, we had the importation of varroa mite,” says Penn State honeybee researcher Maryann Frazier. “It’s a parasitic mite that feeds on the blood of adult bees and on the brood. It also transmits virus and it suppresses the immune system of the bees.”

For years, the only way to control these mites was to spray bee colonies with low-dose insecticides, hoping to kill the mites but not the bees. But a co-op of about a hundred beekeepers stretching from Michigan to Tennessee is trying a different approach. Jeff Berta, who has a farm near Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, is working with bees that groom themselves of mites naturally.

“The bees will take the mite and they will bite the legs and will chew on the mite,” Berta says. “And if they bite a leg off of the mite, the mite will bleed to death. So the bees are actually fighting back.”

It could still be years before these bees are the standard in the industry. But it’s enough for researchers to declare that there’s hope in the fight to save honeybees.

Reporting by Lou Blouin