Green New Deal News

Trump administration to reverse limits on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas

WASHINGTON - The Environmental Protection Agency is set to announce Thursday that it will loosen federal rules on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas linked to climate change, according to two senior administration officials.

The proposed rule will reverse standards enacted under former president Barack Obama that require oil and gas operations to install controls on their operations to curb the release of methane at the well head and in their transmission equipment, including pipelines, processing and storage facilities.

A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the announcement was not yet public, said Trump officials were confident the oil and gas industry had an economic incentive to limit methane because capturing it allows companies to sell more gas. The agency estimates that the proposed changes, which will be subject to public comment for 60 days after it is published, would save the oil and natural gas industry between $17 million and $19 million a year.

But several of the world's biggest fossil fuel companies, including Exxon, Shell and BP, have opposed the rollback and urged the Trump administration to keep the current standards in place. Collectively, these firms account for 11 percent of America's natural gas output.

In a statement Thursday, Shell U.S. President Gretchen Watkins reiterated the company's support for national limits on methane, noting that Shell has pledged to reduce its methane leaks from its global operations to less than 0.2 percent by 2025.

"We believe sound environmental policies are foundational to the vital role natural gas can play in the energy transition and have made clear our support of 2016 law to regulate methane from new and modified onshore sources," she said. "Despite the administration's proposal to no longer regulate methane, Shell's U.S. assets will continue to contribute to that global target."

The Wall Street Journal first reported news of the rollback.

Methane is a significant contributor to the world's greenhouse gas emissions, though it is shorter lived than carbon dioxide and is not emitted in as large amounts. It is 80 times more powerful than CO2 and often leaked as companies drill for gas and transport it across the country.

Scientists have projected that the world needs to cut its overall greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half by mid-century in order to avert dangerous impacts from global warming.

According to an EPA document obtained by The Post, the agency will continue regulating volatile organic compounds, which are also released during oil and gas operations, rather than methane directly. Such limits could cut down on the amount of methane released in the process.

Last September, the Interior Department eased requirements that oil and gas firms operating on federal and tribal land capture the release of methane.

Environmentalists threatened to fight the Trump administration's move in court.

"This reckless rollback highlights the Trump administration's complete contempt for our climate," said Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity, an advocacy group. "The EPA is now so determined to actually increase greenhouse pollution that it's even shrugging off concerns from oil and gas companies about gutting these protections. Fracked gas is a climate killer, and Trump's rash embrace of this dirty stuff showcases the need for the next president to commit to a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels."

The Obama administration's push to impose the first-ever limits on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry in 2016 came shortly after the EPA found that emissions were on an upswing at a time when booming U.S. shale oil and gas drilling had dramatically driven down prices for domestic natural gas and global oil alike.

Ben Ratner, a senior director at the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, said in an interview that rolling back the regulations could reward bad actors in the industry. Given the fact that many major players had embraced limits on methane, Ratner said, it made little sense for Trump officials to ease such restrictions.

"It's more of an ideological reaction to regulation of any climate pollutant by the federal government," he said.