Trump Administration Rolls Back Methane Regulations for Oil and Gas Industry

EPA administrator said rules were “ineffective,” while critics argue the move jeopardizes public health.
August 14, 2020

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized two rules that roll back restrictions on emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds from oil and natural gas industry sources.

One rule rescinded the New Source Performance Standards that regulated methane and eliminated regulations for methane and volatile organic compounds from the transmission and storage segments of the oil and gas industry.

A second rule amended the New Source Performance Standards to exclude wells that produce 15 barrels of oil equivalent a day from fugitive emissions monitoring.

“EPA has been working hard to fulfill President Trump’s promise to cut burdensome and ineffective regulations for our domestic energy industry,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Regulatory burdens put into place by the Obama-Biden Administration fell heavily on small and medium-sized energy businesses. Today’s regulatory changes remove redundant paperwork, align with the Clean Air Act, and allow companies the flexibility to satisfy leak-control requirements by complying with equivalent state rules.”

The changes are supported by groups like the Indiana Oil & Gas Association and by a group of 10 states attorneys general, including Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill.

Methane is a greenhouse gas that is more than 25 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. The gas makes up 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in the U.S.

It occurs naturally in the environment, but according to the EPA, about 28% of all methane emissions come from natural gas and petroleum systems and about 8% is from coal mining.

The rules are estimated to save companies about $100 million a year, but environmental groups said the rule will imperil the health of all Americans, disproportionately affecting Black and Brown communities.
“With these rollbacks, the Trump administration is compounding an unprecedented public health crisis by exacerbating another. We need strong methane standards to keep our air clean and safe to breathe, and combat the climate crisis. EPA must prioritize our health and safety over the profits of oil and gas companies, and we will hold them accountable in court,” said Earthjustice associate attorney Caitlin Miller.
Natural gas contains many different compounds, but the largest component of natural gas is methane.

The state of Indiana ranks among the top 10 natural gas-consuming states in the U.S. About 60% of households in the state of Indiana depend on natural gas for home heating. But residential use accounts for only about one-sixth of natural gas consumed in the state. About half of all natural gas brought into the state is consumed by industry and a further 25% is used to create electric power.

Most of the natural gas used in Indiana is brought in by pipeline and stored in 21 natural gas storage fields, capable of holding about 114 billion cubic feet of natural gas, or about 1% of the nation’s total.

Methane leaks throughout the supply chain during the transmission of natural gas. Some researchers have found that methane leaks are about 60% higher than estimated by the EPA.

The researchers found that existing inventory methods missed emissions that happened during “abnormal” conditions and during venting.

“The only people who will benefit from gutting these commonsense protections are the oil and gas executives seeking a free pass to release even more harmful air pollution while the public pays the price,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. “We will pursue all legal avenues to fight back against this blatant attack on our environment and public health.”

Trump Administration Rolls Back Methane Regulations for Oil and Gas Industry