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Not All Oil Companies Support Trump Administration's Rollback Of Methane Emission Rule


We learned today that the Trump administration is proposing the rollback of another Obama era environmental rule. This one, aimed at the oil and gas industry, limits methane emissions, emissions that contribute to climate change. Not all oil companies support getting rid of it, as NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas. When burned on your stovetop or in your furnace, it emits fewer greenhouse gases than other fossil fuels. But when methane is released before it burns - say, from a leaky valve at a well site - it's a potent greenhouse gas. The EPA says it has an even greater effect than carbon dioxide. The Obama era methane rule required drillers to monitor and limit leaks from wells, compressor stations at other oil and gas operations.

In announcing the proposal to revoke the rules, the EPA's Anne Idsal echoed a point the oil industry often mentions.

ANNE IDSAL: Oil and gas are very valuable resources. And, quite frankly, the industry has every incentive to minimize emissions and maximize use, and they have a track record of doing so.

BRADY: Idsal says the industry is improving its practices, and technology to detect methane leaks also is getting better. She says methane emissions are going down, and she doesn't think this rule change will reverse that. She also says it will save the industry up to $19 million a year in compliance costs.

Ben Ratner with the Environmental Defense Fund doesn't buy the argument that the industry will fix the problem on its own. He says it currently emits enough methane to heat 10 million homes for a year, and he says that needs to decline to address climate change.

BEN RATNER: This would be a huge step backward. It would cause greatly increased pollution and a big missed opportunity to take cost-effective, immediate action to reduce the rate of warming right now.

BRADY: Some large oil companies want to keep the Obama era rules in place. They include Exxon Mobil, BP and Shell. That's because natural gas has become a bigger business for those companies. They worry that if methane emissions aren't controlled, that could undermine arguments that natural gas is a cleaner-burning fossil fuel than coal. Shell's president in the U.S., Gretchen Watkins, says her company has a plan to reduce methane released from its operations and will continue to pursue that despite the administration's announcement.

The oil industry is split, based primarily on size. Smaller companies say the regulation is too expensive for them. Still, Erik Milito with the American Petroleum Institute says oil and gas companies are addressing this themselves.

ERIK MILITO: The industry itself has taken this very seriously every incentive to capture and reduce methane emissions because it's the product we sell. It essentially is natural gas, the same thing, you know, that comes out of our stovetop when we're cooking.

BRADY: The industry has a voluntary program to limit methane emissions, though environmentalists say there are not enough companies taking part. A few states also are working on their own regulations. The EPA's proposal still has to go through a 60-day public comment period. The agency also plans to hold a public hearing in Texas. If the change becomes final, critics likely will take the agency to court, which means today's proposal might not take effect before the 2020 election.

Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.