In Rare Move, Oil Giants Ask Trump to Regulate a Greenhouse Gas

The iconic Shell logo
The iconic Shell logo
Photo: Getty

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.


Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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Dense non aqueous phase liquid

Excellent reporting there Yessenia.

When the government regulates something, the regulator basically becomes a partner with whatever is being regulated. Regulation basically allows for discharge of a pollutant to a certain level with government approval. That’s the whole purpose of the clean air and water acts. As long as discharge is below a permitted level then discharger is in compliance.

My guess is that oil & gas would like Trump administration to set discharge levels now instead of a president [insert democratic candidate here] and a democratic party controlled house and senate after 2020.

This sudden interest in being regulated might also have something to do with the Permian Basin in Texas. All the major oil companies mentioned above are going back into the play with gusto after fracking replaced conventional extraction.

The Permian basin has been producing oil and gas for about 100 years. It wasn’t until recently that fracking started in shale layers of the basin. Permian basin is the largest producing fields in the world right now and it is about to get even larger. Both the oil and gas are going onto the world market.

What environmental non profits like EDF, Sierra Club and NRDC (i.e. Big Green) should not do this time around is help oil & gas out of this mess. EDF has been working with oil majors on fugitive methane for a while now - all beyond the authority of federal and state regulations. To be a cool enviro nonprofit. 

Then again, China is starting to frack its shale fields. China has the most oil and gas reserves in shale.