Friday, August 14, 2020

Trump administration weakens drillers' responsibility to detect and fix leaks of methane, a major greenhouse gas

"The Trump administration formally weakened a major climate-change regulation on Thursday — effectively freeing oil and gas companies from the need to detect and repair methane leaks — even as new research shows that far more of the potent greenhouse gas is seeping into the atmosphere than previously known," Coral Davenport reports for the The New York Times. Methane has a much stronger greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide, but dissipates much more quickly.

Under the new rules, the Environmental Protection Agency effectively no longer has the authority to regulate methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is the main component of natural gas. Instead, methane will now be regulated under the weaker standards of the Clean Air Act, Steven Mufson reports for The Washington Post. The Post's James Hohmann notes that Trump dispatched EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to Pennsylvania to sign the order, in a bid to help him carry the state again.

Wheeler "has justified the move by citing EPA data showing that leaks from domestic oil and gas wells have remained steady over the past decade, even as oil and gas production boomed," Davenport reports. "However, numerous recent studies show the opposite: that methane emissions from drilling sites in the United States are far more extensive than the EPA’s official numbers. Overall, methane levels are in fact climbing steadily nationwide, according to the research, and have reached record highs globally in part because of leaks from fossil fuel production."

The move highlights a petroleum-industry divide between large oil and gas companies and smaller independents. "Giants like BP and Shell attacked the move, while trade groups including the Independent Petroleum Association of America and Western Energy Alliance embraced it," Ben Geman reports for Axios. But Geman notes that large multinational companies have more resources to become compliant, and many have already pledged to reduce methane emissions, so they have a competitive advantage over smaller drillers.

"The new methane rules worsen an already grim situation in one of the world’s largest regional climate emissions bombs," the Permian Basin in West Texas and southeast New Mexico, writes Candice Bernd of Truthout. "In June, environmental watchdog Environmental Defense Fund flew specially equipped helicopters above hundreds of Permian drilling sites as part of its Permian Methane Analysis Project, or PermianMAP. Researchers found that more than one in 10 flares in the Permian Basin could be unlit or malfunctioning, accounting for a majority of the 300,000 tons of methane vented from the region every year. The amount of vented methane is three times the annual total the EPA reports."

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