Trump Admin Methane Proposal Spurs Mixed Industry Response
(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration is seeking to abandon regulations designed to stop methane leaks from oil and gas wells, a move opposed not just by environmentalists but even some energy companies that worry it will undermine the appeal of natural gas as climate-friendly fossil fuel.
The proposal, unveiled Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency, is the latest assault in President Donald Trump’s campaign to weaken Obama-era measures fighting climate change, building on previous efforts to ease greenhouse gas emission limits on power plants and automobiles.
Although methane is the chief component of natural gas and therefore a valuable energy source in its own right, it is also a powerful heat-trapping pollutant. And the methane that escapes from pipelines, compressor stations and from oil wells has been blamed for as much as a quarter of the planet’s warming.
The Trump EPA was already moving on a separate track to relax requirements put in place by the Obama administration that forced energy companies to use specialized equipment at wells and search out methane leaks at the sites. The new measure would go much further, by scrapping those mandates altogether.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the proposal “removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry.”
“The Trump administration recognizes that methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimize leaks and maximize its use,” Wheeler said in an emailed news release. “Since 1990, natural gas production in the United States has almost doubled while methane emissions across the natural gas industry have fallen by nearly 15%. Our regulations should not stifle this innovation and progress.”
Independent oil producers applauded the EPA’s move, which would short-circuit a legal requirement that similar methane curbs be imposed on a million existing wells, disproportionately affecting smaller companies. Under the EPA’s change, “hundreds of thousands of existing, small business-owned low-production wells wouldn’t be subject to inappropriate regulations” and be compelled “to use technology requirements” geared toward new facilities, said Lee Fuller, executive vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
However, the EPA proposal comes against the wishes of several global energy companies, such as BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, which have warned the administration’s retreat on methane threatens to undermine the sales pitch for natural gas as a source of electricity that burns cleaner than coal. Executives from both companies criticized the proposal Thursday.
“We have to reduce methane emissions for natural gas to realize its full potential in our energy mix,” BP America Inc. Chairman Susan Dio said by email. “The more gas we keep in our pipes and equipment, the more we can provide to the market -- and the faster we can all move toward a lower-carbon future.”
Methane accounts for just 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, yet it packs a big punch. It has more than 84 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide the first two decades it escapes into the atmosphere, and is at least 28 times more powerful over a century. And the oil industry is the leading industrial source of it.
Environmentalists vowed to challenge the move in court, if the EPA finalizes its proposal.
“The Trump EPA is eager to give the oil and gas industry a free pass to keep leaking enormous amounts of climate pollution into the air,” said David Doniger, senior strategic director of climate and clean energy at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We simply cannot protect our children and grandchildren from climate catastrophe if EPA lets this industry off scot-free.”
The Obama administration took direct aim at the oil industry’s methane emissions in 2016, by imposing requirements for energy companies to frequently seek and plug methane leaks at wells drilled after the regulation was put in place. That came on top of other EPA requirements which focus on paring the release of ozone-forming volatile organic compounds at oil and gas infrastructure but help rein in methane emissions at the same time.
Trump’s EPA would retain those requirements for some oil and gas infrastructure.
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