Published: Sat, August 31, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Trump administration to relax restrictions on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas

Trump administration to relax restrictions on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas

The Trump administration moved Thursday to revoke regulations on methane leaks from oil facilities, a proposal environmental advocates said would renounce key federal authority to regulate the climate-damaging gas.

The agency is proposing to reverse regulations adopted by the Obama administration that require oil and natural gas companies to install equipment to capture methane gas releases at their wells, pipelines and other sites.

"Shell remains committed to achieving our target of maintaining methane emissions intensity below 0.2% by 2025 for all operated assets globally", Shell U.S. President Gretchen Watkins said in a statement. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, and the oil and gas industry is the single largest emitter of methane in the United States.

Methane is less prevalent than carbon dioxide but is considered a more potent greenhouse gas because it absorbs more energy and can contribute more to warming in the atmosphere.

A group of 140 investors worldwide pressed oil and gas companies to oppose the EPA's proposed rollbacks. But that's "such a small fraction of the industry total cash flow that it's just laughable", says Harvard University's Steven Wofsy, a professor of atmospheric and environmental science.

Shell, on the other hand, said it generally supports the Obama-era regulation and has its own plans to reduce its methane emissions.

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The latest rollback "highlights the Trump administration's complete contempt for our climate", Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, said in a statement. The new rules follow the president's directive to lift regulations on the energy sector in favor of expanding oil and natural gas production. Methane gas has more than 80 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it escapes into the atmosphere, scientists say.

"The Trump administration's proposal to erase methane monitoring requirements for oil and gas companies demonstrates a profound ignorance of climate change and the state of methane monitoring technology today".

Under the proposal, the EPA would in effect divide the oil and gas industry into two segments for the purposes of greenhouse gas regulation, with oil wells classified separately from pipelines, tanks and natural gas transmission - which would not be liable to the methane mandates.

"This proposal is likely to result in higher methane emissions and to stall progress the industry has made in detecting and fixing leaks", he said. As investors, we expect to see our companies publicly denounce this proposal and the increased risk it presents to the entire industry, not to mention the planet.

"We simply can not protect our children and grandchildren from climate catastrophe if EPA lets this industry off scot-free", said David Doniger, a climate and clean energy specialist at the Natural Resources Defence Council. The agency also said it will hold a public hearing on the proposal at a time and in a place yet to be announced.

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