EnergyTrump Administration Will Roll Back Obama Era Methane Regulations

Almost a year after first announcing a plan to roll back methane regulations, the EPA and Trump administration will move forward with a plan to eliminate Obama-era rules.
August 11, 2020
In details given to the Wall Street Journal on Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will move forward with its planned revisions to some methane regulations — one of which is the elimination of a requirement that producers establish methane leak-protocols and another removes large storage facilities and pipelines from the regulatory purview of the EPA.

The rules were put in place by the Obama administration in 2016 out of concerns over methane’s contribution to climate change.

Methane is not among the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) listed by the EPA, but it is a “greenhouse gas” and much more potent of a warming agent in a short time frame than the more commonly-discussed carbon dioxide.

VOC’s are still regulated under the proposed language.

This new rule would apply to wells drilled in 2016 henceforth, but not retroactively previous to 2016. These regulations are far more burdensome to small and independent producers who do not have the capital available to adhere to the requirements. ExxonMobil does not have the same issue.

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Larger companies, like Exxon, preferred keeping the rules, according to the Wall Street Journal, “saying a lack of climate regulation undermines their promise that the U.S. natural gas they sell is a cleaner source of energy.”

Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX-19), who represents a large portion of the Permian Basin, told The Texan, “Overregulation is a big cost to consumers as well as our small businesses. I will continue to work with the Trump administration to repeal unnecessary Obama mandates and unleash the full potential of American ingenuity and energy independence.”

“Eliminating these safeguards would ignore the overwhelming body of scientific evidence documenting the urgent need to reduce methane pollution,” Peter Zalzal, the lead attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), said of the rollback. 

“And it is also starkly at odds with the broad and diverse set of stakeholders — including some major oil and gas producing companies — that support retaining and strengthening methane safeguards.”

Texas is the epicenter of the U.S.’s oil and gas prowess, despite the industry’s struggles during the pandemic. And due to its historic high production, environmentalists carefully watch the region’s emissions. When excess methane is siphoned out by oil and gas producers, the gas is flared, or burned, rather than emitted into the atmosphere.

Producers are permitted specific levels of emissions and flaring rates by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) on an individual basis.

A 2019 study showed the region’s flaring intensity — the amount of natural gas flared per barrel of oil produced — had decreased by 64 percent. That means while production levels have increased drastically, over 210 percent since 2011, producers have improved significantly on preventing waste.

At its root, flaring intensity is a way of measuring emissions and progress made therein without assuming net-zero emissions is possible given current technology.

The TCEQ inspects and regulates emissions by producers. But environmental groups remain starkly opposed to any emissions and advocate for a move away from fossil fuels.

Last year, the Trump administration announced the rule change which has taken until now to get off the ground.

In July, the president visited West Texas to approve four pipeline permits, one of which would run from the Permian Basin to Mexico. But the Trump administration is making a serious effort, as the president’s poll numbers dip in key states like Texas and Pennsylvania, to accentuate why energy industry-reliant parts of the country supported him in 2016.


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Brad Johnson

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.