Rollback of methane rules in the works

Posted: September 11, 2018 at 2:13 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's administration, taking its third major step this year to roll back federal efforts to fight climate change, is preparing to make it significantly easier for energy companies to release methane into the atmosphere.

Methane, which is among the most powerful greenhouse gases, routinely leaks from oil and gas wells, and energy companies have long said that the rules requiring them to test for emissions were costly and burdensome.

The Environmental Protection Agency, perhaps as soon as this week, plans to make public a proposal to weaken a President Barack Obama-era requirement that companies monitor and repair methane leaks, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.

In a related move, the Interior Department is also expected in coming days to release its final version of a draft rule, proposed in February, that essentially repeals a restriction on the intentional venting and "flaring," or burning, of methane from drilling operations.

Methane makes up only about 9 percent of greenhouse gases, but it is around 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere. About one-third of methane pollution is estimated to come from oil and gas operations.

The forthcoming proposals from the EPA and Interior Department would allow far more methane to leak from oil and gas drilling operations, environmentalists say. "These leaks can pop up any time, anywhere, up and down the oil and gas supply chain," said Matt Watson, a specialist in methane pollution with the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group.

Industry groups praised the expected changes. "It's a neat pair" of proposals on methane, said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an association of independent oil and gas companies that is based in Denver.

The Obama-era EPA methane rule, she said, "was the definition of red tape. It was a record-keeping nightmare that was technically impossible to execute in the field."

The new rules follow two regulatory rollbacks this year that, taken together, represent the foundation of the United States' effort to rein in global warming.

In July, the EPA proposed weakening a rule on carbon-dioxide pollution from vehicle tailpipes. And in August, the agency proposed replacing the rule on carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants with a weaker one that would allow far more global-warming emissions to flow unchecked from the nation's smokestacks.

Business on 09/11/2018