The Trump administration is abandoning Obama administration curbs on methane leaks from oil and gas wells. Methane is the chief component of natural gas, making it a valuable energy source and commodity. Yet it is also a climate menace—a powerful heat-trapping pollutant estimated to be roughly 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere over a 20-year period. Methane makes up roughly a 10th of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, with much of that coming from the energy industry.
The measures, set to be released by the Environmental Protection Agency, finalize proposals issued over the past two years. Together, they will rescind methane-specific emission curbs at new and modified oil wells while easing some requirements for energy companies to frequently inspect equipment and repair leaks of other pollution known as volatile organic compounds.
Many inspections will be required semiannually, including for compressor stations that now have a quarterly requirement, according to two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named before a formal announcement.
Agency officials and industry supporters argue that the regulations on methane are not needed because existing limits on ozone-forming volatile organic compounds already rein in the greenhouse gas.
“There’s this false narrative that controls are going to be coming off and emissions spewing—and that’s just not correct,” said Howard Feldman, senior counselor of policy, economics and regulatory affairs at the American Petroleum Institute. “Our members are committed to emissions reductions.”
Environmentalists argue it’s insufficient to focus regulations only on releases of volatile organic compounds from new and modified wells, given the potential for big methane leaks from older, existing operations.
“Volatile organic compounds are not always a good proxy for methane emissions, and you’re going to leave emissions on the table if you don’t directly regulate methane,” said Ben Ratner, a senior director with the Environmental Defense Fund.
Some large, integrated oil companies including Shell Oil Co. and BP Plc unsuccessfully lobbied the Trump administration to maintain the targeted methane limits.
“The negative impacts of leaks and fugitive emissions have been widely acknowledged for years, so it’s frustrating and disappointing to see the administration go in a different direction,” Shell U.S. President Gretchen Watkins said in an emailed statement.