1. Update
  2. Environment & Energy

Trump’s Methane Rollbacks Are Another Part of the Dangerous Antiregulatory Agenda

By Milo Keller, October 10, 2018

Methane is an incredibly dangerous greenhouse gas. Although it does not last as long as carbon dioxide, it traps 86 times more heat in its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Scientists consider this gas to be a major contributor to climate change.

When natural gas is extracted from the ground, methane leaks into the atmosphere. Studies show that this leakage must be kept below 3.2 percent for a methane plant to have a smaller carbon footprint than a coal plant. However, evidence suggests that the average methane leakage for all US gas plants exceeds this threshold.

Despite this, the Trump administration is rescinding two primary rules the Obama administration implemented to limit methane gas emissions.

The first is a rule designed to prevent methane gas from being emitted during oil and gas production on federal and tribal lands. The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Waste Prevention Rule limits processes like flaring, in which excess methane is burned off, and venting, during which methane is released into the atmosphere.

The administration is also reversing an Environmental Protection Agency’s rule on methane which includes requiring oil and gas companies to monitor and fix methane leaks for new operations. It will exempt thousands of sites from any pollution reduction requirements.

Trump administration officials say the BLM rollback is designed to eliminate a rule that was “unnecessarily burdensome on the private sector” and cost the energy industry millions of dollars. Environmental groups and some states, however, argue that the deregulation is needlessly dangerous. California and New Mexico have brought lawsuits against the rule change as has the Natural Resources Defense Council.

By rescinding the BLM rule, Trump is allowing at least 35% more methane to be emitted into the atmosphere. Many scientists worry that this number may be far below what will actually be emitted, as new science shows that the government underestimates methane emissions by up to 60%.

Natural gas facilities already play a large part in contributing to climate change. Oil and gas industrial facilities emit at least 8.1 million metric tons of methane pollution per year. That is the equivalent of operating 150 coal plants or driving more than 145 million cars a year.

Natural gas exploration also poses danger to ecosystems, wildlife, and water supplies. Drilling can cause erosion, and the chemicals often used to extract natural gas leech into the groundwater supplies of neighboring communities. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, has even been linked to seismic activity.

FCNL has long worked to prevent the harmful deregulation of methane emissions. In 2017, we commended the Senate for upholding the BLM’s Waste Prevention Rule. Notably, that rule was upheld in Congress with the bipartisan support of Republican Senators John McCain (AZ), Susan Collins (ME), and Lindsey Graham (SC).

The bipartisan support for reducing methane waste shows that it is possible to work with both political parties for sensible environmental regulations. FCNL remains committed to working toward bipartisan solutions and decries the Trump administration’s feckless regulatory rollback.

Milo Keller

  • Program Assistant, Sustainable Energy and Environment

Milo Keller served as the Program Assistant for Sustainable Energy and Environment for 2018-2019.