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Why Methane Emissions Regulations Are Being Rolled Back: What to Know

Posted September 10, 2019

Much of the Trump Administration’s current environmental policy centers on cutting things the Obama Administration previously put in place. One of the most recent examples of this occurred on August 29, 2019.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to lift federal rules that required entities in the oil and gas industry to minimize methane gas leaks. Some of the mandated measures included implementing technology that could detect those problems.

Air pollution.

Air pollution. Image credit: Vitaly Vlasov via Pexels (Free Pexels licence)

Well-Know Industry Brands in Opposition

Once the news broke, representatives from companies including BP and Exxon Mobil weighed in to say they oppose the announcement. Some pointed out that this move concerns them due to the known impacts of methane emissions on climate change.

Others mentioned that if they don’t have technology that alerts them to leaks, they won’t have as much methane to use for business purposes.

Environmental Activists Are Frustrated

Methane leaks allow greenhouse gas to enter the atmosphere. It’s several times more harmful than carbon dioxide, and it traps more heat over a long-term period. Representatives from environmental activism groups view these plans as a way for the EPA to give oil and gas industry companies free rein and permit them to ignore how their actions could directly impact climate change.

Activists see global warming as an issue that affects this generation and future ones. That forward-looking mindset causes them to worry that this anticipated change will have prolonged consequences.

Something for people to keep in mind when learning what this rollback means for climate change is that there is a massive natural gas infrastructure in the United States. It has a million miles of pipes, and gas sometimes travels up to 1,000 miles from a well to its destination.

The sprawl of that network makes it exceptionally difficult for companies to know when and where problems exist. But, the previously mandated monitoring technology alerted them to issues.

Saving Money for the Industry

In an EPA press release, administrator Andrew Wheeler explained that these expected changes follow from an executive order made by President Trump. The possible implementation also “removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens” from enterprises in the oil and gas sector.

Wheeler also stated that the production of natural gas, of which methane is the primary component, has almost doubled in the U.S. since 1990. Conversely, he says that methane emissions fell nearly 15%. That same press release discussed how these proposed changes could save oil and gas companies up to $19 million per year.

Analysts clarify how that amount of money is not tremendous for the biggest brands in the sector, which can absorb the costs of compliance. Instead, such cost-cutting is intended to help smaller enterprises saddled with debt from trying to meet regulations.

Companies Are Trying to Cut Emissions at the Local and State Levels

Although this news signals that the Trump Administration is ready to loosen regulation on oil and gas companies, some are determined to keep trying to cut methane emissions regardless of federal action.

For example, Peoples Gas, a natural gas company that serves Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, set a goal to reduce methane emissions by 50% within the Pittsburgh city limits.

It will use advanced leak detection technology to prioritize which problems to tackle first. This strategic use of data should allow the company to move forward in ways that use its resources as effectively as possible.

Similarly, state legislators in Massachusetts introduced a regulation requiring utility companies to identify so-called Grade 3 leaks that significantly harm the environment.

Until recently, companies were under no obligation to fix those severe leaks because they don’t pose explosion-related dangers. However, the new rule, brought forth in the spring of 2019, means the associated enterprises must repair these problems within two years of becoming aware of them.

A couple of years ago, a Massachusetts law required companies to fix Grade-3 issues, but there was not a clear-cut way to assess which leaks met the criteria. So, a coalition called Gas Leaks Allies worked with natural gas brands to research where the biggest leaks were. A report indicates that this newer law to make repairs within two years could halve emissions.

The state’s natural gas pipes are reportedly some of the oldest in the country and cost millions per year in leaks. The cost of finding and fixing leaks could result in higher rates for customers. However, supporters of this new law say customers already get charged for leaked gas.

Not an Immediate Change

The looser EPA regulations will not happen right away. They have to go through a 60-day comment period and discussion at a public hearing first.

However, it’s good for people to know what may be on the horizon and learn how local and state entities will continue to take action on methane emissions.

Written by Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes.

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