The Trump administration is moving to abolish rules enacted under former President Barack Obama on emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas linked to climate change, in what amounts to the latest assault by the White House on efforts to curb global warming.

The Environmental Protection Agency would end requirements for natural gas and oil producers to install equipment that monitors and curbs methane leaks from new wells, tanks and pipeline networks and to more frequently inspect for leaks. It would also preempt legal requirements that would have forced the EPA to set rules on emissions from pre-existing wells and sites. The Wall Street Journal initially reported the rollback in regulations.

Methane, a natural gas component, is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, though it is shorter lived than carbon dioxide and is emitted in smaller amounts as companies drill for gas. The gas’s global warming potential is more than 80 times as powerful as CO2 emissions over a 20-year period, according to the EPA

“The reputation of American natural gas is at the precipice, and methane rollbacks are the shove,” Ben Ratner, a senior director with the Environmental Defense Fund, told the New York Times

Private equity backed startups like Crusoe Energy have been finding ways to use gas that would otherwise be burned off, for purposes like bitcoin mining. Crusoe has been backed by firms including Bain Capital and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund Pathfinder. Natural gas is mostly made up of methane, and emitted in gas, coal and oil production. It’s often burned off, or flared, in production. 

  • Big oil firms including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC oppose the change and have warned that the lack of requirements to curb emissions could undercut the case that natural gas is a cleaner fuel. They also say legal arguments might lead to years of limbo before deregulation would lower costs.
  • “Despite the administration’s proposal to no longer regulate methane, Shell’s U.S. assets will continue to contribute to that global target,” Shell U.S. President Gretchen Watkins, said in a statement, according to the Washington Post. 
  • The U.S. oil and gas industry releases about 13 million metric tons of methane from its operations each year — almost 60% more than estimated by the EPA, the journal Science reported in July.
  • U.S. natural gas production surged 12% to a record 28.5 billion cubic feet per day in 2018, according to the Energy Information Administration. The U.S. surpassed Russia to become the world’s biggest natural gas producer in 2011, the agency said. 

Karma Takeaway: This is the latest assault by the Trump administration on regulations curbing greenhouse gasses and environmental pollution. The reaction to the methane proposal shows that the energy industry isn’t monolithic, and some actors see the advantage in working for a greener future.