Last Thursday, the Trump administration announced a proposed rollback of a methane gas regulation that regulatory opponents felt were burdensome.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal would loosen methane limits on the “production and processing aspects of the [oil and gas] industry.”
Proponents say the rule change would result in an annual savings of between $17-$19 million a year for the industry, upwards of $120 million by 2025. Proponents also believe this will allow companies to invest even more heavily in innovations that mitigate gas leakage.
The rollback removes “unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry,” according to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
He added, “Since 1990, natural gas production in the United States has almost doubled while methane emissions across the natural gas industry have fallen by nearly 15 percent.”
Companies have done this by shoring up plants and pipelines’ valves by retrofitting or upgrading the pneumatic controllers; constant monitoring of wellhead vents while unloading of manual liquids; and improving leakage detection.
Methane, while flammable, is considered relatively non-toxic as it does not have an OSHA permissible exposure limit.
There is concern from some, however, about its role in “warming the atmosphere.”
Exxon Mobil announced its support for the current regulations in a December 2018 letter by Vice President Gantt Walton to the EPA stating, “We encourage [the] EPA to continue cost-effective regulations. In that regard, we support maintaining the key elements of the underlying regulations.”
Walton added, “We believe the correct mix of policies and reasonable regulations help reduce emissions, further supporting the benefits of natural gas in the energy mix.”
The endorsement of the methane rule by a massive corporation like Exxon Mobil makes sense to Tom Giovanetti, president of the Institute for Policy Innovation.
Giovanetti told The Texan, “It’s no surprise that the major oil and gas companies are content with existing regulations, since it’s always been true that big companies can afford to absorb the costs of complying with regulations while their smaller competitors struggle.”
Giovanetti continued, “The cost of complying with the Obama methane regulations are a rounding error to major companies but are a significant burden to smaller, more entrepreneurial companies, and we need both.”
“The real solution is for Congress to pass legislation that creates predictability with these environmental regulations,” he concluded.
In a statement to The Texan, Texas Oil and Gas Association President Todd Staples said, “The oil and natural gas industry is already successfully reducing methane emissions, even during a time when natural gas production doubled. Our member companies work every day to provide the energy and products that make modern life possible.”
Staples added, “The industry recognizes the need for environmentally responsible oil and natural gas development and we are accomplishing emissions progress through voluntary programs, innovations, and efficiencies.”
About the proposal, Staples concluded, “We support EPA’s decision to further regulatory programs that acknowledge this progress and eliminate duplicative regulatory requirements that stand in the way of this progress.”
While these regulations are removed, limits on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — which are classified by the EPA as dangerous indoor and outdoor air pollutants — remain in place.
The Sierra Club’s executive director, Michael Brune, reacted harshly to the Trump administration’s latest regulatory rollback.
In a statement, Brune said, “This proposal is a blatant attempt to give oil and gas companies yet another free pass to release as much harmful air pollution as they want while the public pays the price. The Sierra Club will continue to fight back against Wheeler’s efforts to prioritize corporate polluter profits over our climate and our families’ health.”
The original rule was challenged in court by numerous plaintiffs, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton who said at the time, “The regulation has negligible environmental benefit and adds additional cost to both Texas and the oil and gas industry by creating more red tape.”
For the next 60 days, the EPA will field comments on these proposals from the public.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.