Tuesday, September 11, 2018

New EPA rules will let energy companies check for methane leaks less often and allow more time to repair them

"The Trump administration, taking its third major step this year to roll back federal efforts to fight climate change, is preparing to make it significantly easier for energy companies to release methane into the atmosphere," Coral Davenport reports for The New York Times. "Methane, which is among the most powerful greenhouse gases, routinely leaks from oil and gas wells, and energy companies have long said that the rules requiring them to test for emissions were costly and burdensome."

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to propose a rule weakening an Obama-era rule requiring companies to monitor and repair methane leaks. Under Obama-era rules, drillers had to check for leaks as often as every six months and repair them within 30 days. The new rule would require inspections every one or two years, allow 60 days to repair a leak, and let companies observe state rules, which are often weaker, in states that have them.

Kathleen Sgamma, president of oil and gas lobbying group the Western Energy Alliance, praised the new rules, telling Davenport that the old methane rule was "the definition of red tape" and a "record-keeping nightmare." Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but it breaks down in the atmosphere much faster than CO2 Meanwhile, the Interior Department will soon repealing a restriction on deliberate venting and burning of methane.

Davenport writes, "The new rules follow two regulatory rollbacks this year that, taken together, represent the foundation of the United States’ effort to rein in global warming. In July, the EPA proposed weakening a rule on carbon dioxide pollution from vehicle tailpipes. And in August, the agency proposed replacing the rule on carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants with a weaker one that would allow far more global-warming emissions to flow unchecked from the nation’s smokestacks."

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