Trump Administration’s EPA Proposes Rolling Back Methane Leaks Rule

Oil and gas facilities that could leak more methane as a result of the rule rollback.    Graphic: EDF

The Environmental Protection Agency is planning to roll back a key regulation put in place by the Obama Administration that had plugged a loophole in the Clean Air Act — under the Trump Administration proposal, methane leaks in the transmission and storage of natural gas would no longer be controlled by the Act.  Methane gas is a highly potent greenhouse gas — it is very effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere — and it contains toxic chemicals that can be harmful to people who are exposed.  Methane gas alone makes up 10% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions according to the EPA.  This new proposal would expand on other methane gas pollution rule rollbacks the Administration has already proposed such as the relaxing of monitoring of “fugitive” (or accidental) emissions that is set to go into effect later this year.  When combined, these two proposals would mean that methane gas leaks, for the most part, will not be controlled (unless the emitter does so voluntarily), nor will we have any idea how much is leaking.  

Why This Matters:  The Administration maintains that the regulations are unnecessary and burdensome (the total cost to industry is a paltry $17-19 million a year) and that gas producers will control leaks because “methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimize leaks and maximize its use.”  Well if that were the case, there would be no leaks at all!  In fact, as we have written, methane leaks are soaring according to a recent report by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) —  they are actually 60% higher than what EPA estimates.  Why? Because the price of natural gas is now relatively low and the cost of capturing the leaks is too great – it is cheaper to just let the methane go into the atmosphere.  What an unbelievable waste — according to EDF that leaked gas is worth $2B a year!  And this is one of a series of rule rollbacks intended to make it easier to emit greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide.

Methane Gas Is Potent 

  • According to The Post, methane gas is “often is leaked as companies drill for gas and transport it across the country, and methane emissions are more than 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide emissions over the short term.”
  • At high levels, which sometimes can be emitted due to aging pipes and storage facilities (often located in densely populated areas) methane can react with other compounds to form a toxic mix that can cause respiratory problems and headaches.

Industry Is Divided On Methane Leaks

To Go Deeper:  Read this Wall Street Journal story from last month on the fight over methane gas flares in Texas and the state’s lax rules.

What You Can Do:  Write EPA and tell them you oppose this rule.  The agency will accept comments for 60 days starting next week.  You can file comments by an email identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2017- 0757, to EPA at https://www.regulations.gov/.

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