Fossil fuel giants Shell and Exxon are far from perfect, but they are taking a stand against the Trump administration’s attempt to kill regulations on a potent greenhouse gas. This week, both companies criticized President Donald Trump’s deregulatory actions against methane, a potent greenhouse gas that can leak during oil and gas operations.
Shell told Reuters in an interview published Tuesday that the administration needs to tighten regulations, not loosen them. Exxon reiterated to the Environmental Defense Fund in an interview also published Tuesday that the Environmental Protection Agency should continue regulating the greenhouse gas, which has 25 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a century.
The Trump administration first began its pro-methane deregulatory saga in May 2017, and it continues today. Congress couldn’t succeed in repealing the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule enacted by former President Barack Obama back then, so the Bureau of Land Management formally implemented a revised, weakened version of the rule in November 2018. This is being challenged in court, but the legal system takes time. For now, industries must comply with the Trump administration’s weakened standards until a court issues a ruling.
Trump’s revisions don’t force the oil and gas industry to improve technologies that would limit methane from flaring, leaking, and venting as the Obama rule did. That’s not only bad news only for the environment; it’s bad for the health of nearby communities as these facilities release pollutants like benzene and particulate matter alongside methane.
Shell and Exxon didn’t make any mention of public health in their recent statements on the matter. Instead, their publicly-stated concerns revolved around climate change. “It is a big part of the climate problem and frankly we can do more,” said Shell Oil Company President Gretchen Watkins to Reuters during an energy conference in Houston.
Indeed, Obama’s original rule published in 2016 would have removed some 180,000 tons of methane from the air a year, significantly curtailing the greenhouse gases emissions that are spiraling the climate into chaos.
Shell wants the EPA to regulate current and future methane emissions, keeping in line with the Obama rule. Exxon came out in support of the Obama-era regulations back in December. Speaking to the EDA this week, Matt Kolesar, the environmental, health, and safety manager at XTO Energy, an Exxon subsidiary, said the company’s own efforts to reduce emissions mean very little if competitors aren’t doing the same.
Environmental rhetoric aside, money’s got a lot to do with all of this. A growing number of investors don’t want to be associated with climate change and are pressuring these companies to clean up their act. Meanwhile, both Shell and Exxon are facing lawsuits over their business model and shady decisions that got us here in the first place.
Still, all of this makes these fossil fuel giants look pretty good for a change, which is probably the point. Meanwhile, other companies (cough, BP) are still against methane regulation despite casting themselves as leaders in the fight to clean it up.