Trump's Methane Rule Rollback Will Make More People Sick

More of this, under the final rule.
More of this, under the final rule.
Photo: AP

On Tuesday, the Trump administration took the long-anticipated step of reversing an Obama-era rule that would’ve helped prevent leaking, venting, and flaring of methane from oil and gas operations. The rollback doesn’t just kill the final piece of Obama’s climate legacy—it could mean more air pollution entering vulnerable communities.

Advertisement

Certain Native American reservations—like the Fort Berthold and Navajo Nation—are located near oil and gas infrastructure. The same is true for Latinx communities in California. The 2016 Waste Prevention Rule would’ve helped address emissions spewing from these facilities and into communities.

This is not the case with the Trump administration’s final revision of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule. The bureau won’t be pushing the oil and gas industry to better control the venting and flaring of methane from its operations on federal and tribal lands, which means other pollutants released alongside methane—including benzene and particulate matter—will continue to enter the air these communities breathe.

Advertisement

“It’s these co-pollutants that, lots of times, people don’t pay as much attention to,” said Mustafa Ali, who used to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental justice department, to Earther. “All of this comes out when you’re doing these extractive processes—and those are nasty.”

Some air contaminants released alongside methane can lead to the formation of smog. Long-term exposure to benzene, in particular, can mess with a person’s blood, immune system, and ultimately cause cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A toxic substance like toluene, on the other hand, affects the nervous system, per the CDC. Elevated levels benzene and formaldehyde, another dangerous air pollutant, have been detected near oil and gas production sites, reports the Environmental Defense Fund.

For some families, this has long been the unfortunate norm. And now, nothing’s changing all because the Trump administration found the methane rule would have “imposed costs exceeding its benefits.”

Advertisement

While this includes compliance costs on behalf of the federal and state government, the BLM is mostly looking out for its industry friends that’d have to update and improve their infrastructure to keep more methane (and everything that comes out with it) from billowing into the air. The original rule was set to remove up to 180,000 tons of methane and 267,000 tons of volatile organic compounds from the air per year.

“What’s most concerning for us, overall, is that BLM omitting these requirements without really considering these impacts on the public in the rollback and is really focused on ensuring a small increase in industry profit margins and is ignoring the cost to the public of this rollback,” said Rosalie Winn, an attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund, to Earther.

Advertisement

People of color already suffer disproportionately from asthma and are more likely to live near polluting industry. Some Navajo Nation communities, especially those in the Great Chaco Region of New Mexico, see oil and gas pads right outside their windows.

Advertisement

That’s, in part, why the state of New Mexico, along with California, filed suit Tuesday against the BLM’s rule.

“With this attempt to ax the Waste Prevention Rule, the Trump administration risks the air our children breathe and at taxpayers’ expense,” said California Attorney General Becerra, in a press release. “We’ve sued the administration before over the illegal delay and suspension of this rule and will continue doing everything in our power to hold them accountable for the sake of our people and planet.”

Advertisement

Litigation on this rule stretches back to last year when the Trump administration first moved to eliminate the proposal. Back then, the issue was around the legality of pushing the rule back. Courts flip-flopped between immediate implementation of the original rule and ignoring it until it was finalized. Now, states are suing over the final rule itself.

After all, peoples’ health and culture are at risk. As Ali, who now serves as the senior vice president of climate and environmental justice at civil rights group Hip Hop Caucus, put it: “People are trapped.”

Advertisement

“You’re being exposed to the flaring that’s going on, and you don’t have the resources to be able to afford the medicine,” Ali told Earther. “You don’t have the resources to be able to escape from the impact, and many communities also have a cultural tie to the land, so they’re not trying to escape. They’re trying to not be impacted from pollution.”

Yessenia Funes is a senior staff writer with Earther. She loves all things environmental justice and dreams of writing children's books.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

dnapl
Dense non aqueous phase liquid

At least there’s some work going on at EPA under MAGA. I highly recommend reviewing the following links. They’re written for casual observers to appreciate. Even Earther writers.

Here’s a nice Powerpoint on what goes up for all economic sectors:

ASSESSMENT OF IMPORTANT SPECIATE PROFILES IN EPA’S EMISSIONS MODELING PLATFORM

Speciate profiles is fancy pants air quality talk for specific molecules and/or particle that’s difficult to distinguish at an elemental level. That would be particulate matter less than 2.5 microns of PM2.5.

Moving along and on point. Here’s another air quality study specific to the oil and gas extraction industry concerning well venting and flaring:

COMPOSITION OF ORGANIC GAS EMISSIONS FROM FLARING NATURAL GAS

Organic gas is gas that’s composed of organic molecules. Methane is organic and so is benzene and so is most of a banana after water is removed. Helium is not organic and neither is radionuclides found in shale oil and gas fields.  

It should be noted that natural gas from a well that is vented and flared or just vented ranges in composition due to the nature of the oil and gas well. Wells in Pennsylvania in the Marcellus shale field are what’s called dry gas wells or wells that don’t have much or any separable oil liquids. On the other hand, vented gas from areas like New Mexico, West Texas, and North Dakota are more wet gas wells. This gas is called associated gas as it’s associated with oil. This is the gas that’s problematic. And this gas has lots more organic molecules. EPA generalized vented natural gas to consist of the following organic molecules or volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Generalized vent gas profile from the above link:

VOCs like benzene (the trigger VOC given its carcinogenicity) are at very low levels - like less than 0.1 percent.

However, US oil and gas industry vents and flares between 200 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year (per www.eia.gov). That’s probably a whole bunch of benzene ending up in the atmosphere.

Fun with numbers:

200 billion cubic feet of natural gas is about 200 trillion BTUs or around 60 million megawatt hours. All the solar power installed in the US last year generated about 80 million megawatt hours. So oil and gas pissed away the equivalent of the entire US solar power industry.

That’s interesting, but let’s look at dollar and cents. The oil and gas business pissed away about $1 to $3 billion dollars in electricity equivalent. What a bunch of wasteful assholes. Fuckers.

It doesn’t really matter. Nobody likes the EPA anyway - not even a some environmentalists . We’ll have NRDC and EDF become our non governmental organizational protectors.