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Energy & Environment

EPA Moves to Roll Back Obama-Era Methane Rules

The agency wants to ease rules on monitoring and fixing oilfield methane leaks

Dave Fehling
A natural gas well near subdivision in Katy, TX.

Oil and gas drillers across Texas could soon be allowed to emit a lot more methane into the air, under a proposal released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday.

The EPA is moving to roll back some Obama-era rules on how companies have to monitor and fix methane leaks at oil and gas sites. The agency says the proposal would advance the Trump Administration’s “energy dominance” agenda by cutting red tape and saving energy companies $484 million in regulatory costs related to methane tracking.

The oil and gas industry is the nation’s largest source of methane emissions, which contribute to climate change. Much of those emissions come from Texas, the nation’s top oil and gas producer.

The EPA’s own analysis of the new proposal says it would lead to hundreds of thousands more tons of methane in the air, which the agency acknowledges could harm air quality and public health.

Environmental groups quickly blasted the move.

Colin Leyden, an advocate who works on regulatory affairs with the Environmental Defense Fund, argued cutting methane emissions is “low-hanging fruit” compared to other challenges with greenhouse gases.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that some in industry, as well as this current administration, are trying to undo what were really some very common sense and practical rules,” Leyden said.

In a statement, Earthworks Policy Director Lauren Pagel said the Trump Administration had “sacrificed public health and climate for oil and gas industry profits.”

Still, some major oil companies have acknowledged the methane problem, pledging to cut emissions on their own. Texas-based oil giant ExxonMobil has even said that the Trump Administration’s agenda won’t deter its own methane reduction efforts.

Just days ago, the president of an ExxonMobil subsidiary with a big presence in west Texas wrote that changes to EPA methane regulations would mean “nothing” for the company.

“That's because any potential regulatory adjustments won't alter our stated commitment to reduce methane emissions in our operations and throughout the industry,” XTO Energy President Sara Ortwein wrote.

“Our view on methane regulation remains: We think there should be a cost-effective federal regulatory standard to manage methane emissions for both new and existing source oil and gas facilities,” Ortwein said.

Leyden said his group is now watching how industry leaders on methane reduction will react to the EPA’s proposal.

“One question is whether those companies, the ones that have acknowledged the need to reduce emissions – and they’ve made commitments to do so – if they’re going to stand up against this misguided proposal,” he said “or let the Trump Administration take the entire industry backwards.”

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