EPA proposes rule easing regulation of methane emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency has released a proposed rule that could roll back requirements on detecting and plugging methane leaks at oil and gas facilities

The move is in line with the Trump administration's anti-regulatory philosophy, but environmentalists are incensed because methane is seen as a major contributor to climate change.

On Thursday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will announce a rollback on federal policy stipulating that energy companies must identify and fix methane leaks at oil and gas facilities.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a longtime backer of oil and gas and a former EPW Committee chairman, was slightly more forceful in his praise for the Trump administration's proposal.

Under the proposal, the EPA would in effect divide the oil and gas industry into two segments for the purposes of greenhouse gas regulation, with oil wells classified separately from pipelines, tanks and natural gas transmission - which would not be liable to the methane mandates.

Under President Donald Trump, both the Interior Department and the EPA have proposed a series of rules - some blocked by courts - to loosen regulations of methane emissions.

Just as important, according to an EPA document obtained by The Washington Post, the proposal will challenge the agency's earlier position that the federal government has the authority to regulate methane without first making a determination that it qualifies as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

The move is the Trump administration's latest easing of rules created to curb greenhouse gas emissions, including many put forth by his predecessor.

Scientists estimate that one pound of methane has more than 20 times the global warming impact of a pound of carbon dioxide, according to the Texas Tribune.

While the agency is justifying its plans by arguing that controls on VOCs also control methane, Idsal did not address the proportion of VOCs present compared with methane along the supply chain.

In an alternative proposal, EPA would rescind the methane emissions limitations without removing from regulation any sources from the transmission and storage segment of the industry.

EPA's acting air chief Anne Isdal told reporters they expect methane emissions to continue to decrease, however, because there is an economic incentive for companies to reduce leaks and other emissions.

"We should be strengthening protections for people and the environment from methane, not weakening them", Udall said in a statement.

The rule would revoke limits on methane emissions for other parts of the industry it says are redundant because it already regulates volatile organic compounds, including methane.

Environmentalists say energy companies do not always do enough to control leaks, especially whenever low natural gas prices make it cheaper to release the methane.

Methane is a greenhouse gas, which means it absorbs heat from the sun and warms the atmosphere. "Despite the administration's proposal to no longer regulate methane, Shell's US assets will continue to contribute to that global target".

Isdal said the agency also considered smaller producers and that the rule doesn't preclude companies from taking additional steps to reduce methane emissions. The rule change will be subject to a public comment period before being finalized.

The agency said the plan would remove regulatory duplication and save the industry millions of dollars in compliance costs each year, while maintaining health and environmental regulations on oil and gas sources that the agency considers appropriate.

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