The Trump Administration Is Taking a Hatchet to Obama's Methane Rule

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

The Trump administration is still on track to keep regulations on methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon, on the back burner. After putting an Obama-era rule that restricted oil and gas industry methane emissions on hold, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has now begun to rewrite the rule—and its changes will substantially weaken it.

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The original rule became final in November 2016. It aimed to reduce the amount of gas wasted through flaring, venting, and leaks during oil and gas production on public and tribal lands, including fracking. The Department of Interior estimated that between 2009 and 2015, these sites lost enough natural gas to power 6 million homes.

Some parts of the rule, including the requirement for waste minimization plans, went into effect in January 2017, but in June, the BLM decided to suspend the rest of the rule until it wrote a new one.

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Now, we’re getting our first glimpse at what a revision may look like. The BLM shared the text for the new proposed Methane Waste & Prevention Rule with E&E News Tuesday. People can find the document in the Federal Register later this week (where they can provide public comment), but this latest move keeps the Trump administration in line to meet its January 17, 2019, deadline to implement this new rule instead of former President Barack Obama’s version.

At least seven elements of the original rule will be lost with the new one if the text stays as is. This includes removing waste minimization plans, and regulations on replacing pneumatic controllers, which help moderate the release of natural gas at these facilities. The BLM’s argument? The Clean Air Act and other regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency should suffice.

Oh, and these new regulations will cost industry too much money.

Not only would Obama’s standards have kept energy companies from wasting product, they would also have reduced methane emissions, which contribute to climate change. And because the release of methane is also often accompanied by other pollutants, like benzene and hydrogen sulfide, these regulations would have also helped address health conditions exacerbated by these toxins, including asthma, other lung diseases, and heart disease.

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The administration has failed and, well, failed again to outright kill the rule, so now it’s going through the official process of writing a new one even though it says it won’t “substantively change the 2016 final rule.” Mhm, sure.

With the release of this text, the bureau will likely wrap up the final text before the January 2019 deadline—unless the many lawsuits in response have something to say about it.

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[h/t E&E News]

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

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DISCUSSION

dnapl
Dense non aqueous phase liquid

Well done, Yessenia.

I wanted to see how oil and gas producing states are doing as far is venting and flaring (VF) gas. This is the chief source of methane - along with fugitive emissions throughout the system.

Vented gas is simply released to the atmosphere. Flared gas is oxidized via open flame. I looked at VF gas with respect to gross production. The US total and states like Colorado, Texas and Wyoming.

The outlier is North Dakota. ND is chiefly shale oil via fracked horizontal wells. Gas is thought of as somewhat of a waste product for Bakken oil wells. ND has greatly decreased VF gases since going crazy with production.

Texas does surprisingly well at minimizing VF well gas. That’s mostly due to there being no state income tax - over say something like concern for the environment. Texas needs oil and gas money to run the state.

Data from EIA dot gov 

US total VF gases are just less than 1% of total gross. CO, TX and WY are less than 2%. ND is around 8%. However, the US total VF gas is around 210 billion cubic feet out of a total 35 trillion cubic feet. That’s a lot of waste. The flared gas would be mostly CO2 and vented would be mostly methane and lesser amounts of only god knows what.

So we’ll have to see what happens federal lands. Make sure to check wind direction should you want to go for a hike at a national park where there is drilling.