By Associated Press
HARRISBURG, Pa. — President Donald Trump’s administration is undoing Obama-era rules designed to limit potent greenhouse-gas emissions from oil and gas fields and pipelines, having formalized the changes earlier this month in the heart of the nation’s most prolific natural-gas reservoir and in the premier presidential battleground state of Pennsylvania.
Andrew Wheeler, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, signed the rollback of the 2016 methane-emissions rule in Pittsburgh in mid-August as the agency touted the Trump administration’s efforts to “strengthen and promote American energy.”
The EPA first proposed the rollback last year , accusing the administration of President Barack Obama of enacting a legally flawed rule, and agency officials said it would save companies tens of millions of dollars a year in compliance requirements without changing the trajectory of methane emissions.
But states including California and a coalition of environmental advocacy groups warned that the changes are illegal — not to mention a setback in the fight against climate change — and expect to quickly sue to block it.
“It’s not only negligent, it’s unlawful,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “We won’t sit silently while the EPA allows this superpollutant to rapidly warm our atmosphere.”
The White House took the event to Pittsburgh, the headquarters for many companies exploring the Marcellus Shale, the booming reservoir that vaulted Pennsylvania to the nation’s No. 2 natural-gas state, behind Texas.
“EPA has been working hard to fulfill President Trump’s promise to cut burdensome and ineffective regulations for our domestic energy industry,” Wheeler said in a statement.
Reflecting the pervasive politics of the presidential campaign, Wheeler cast blame onto the Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, saying that “regulatory burdens put into place by the Obama-Biden Administration fell heavily on small and medium-sized energy businesses.”
Pennsylvania is of prime importance in November’s presidential election, and the natural-gas industry is playing a central role in TV attack ads being aired in the state by Trump’s allies.
In recent years, preventing methane leaks from well-site equipment and pipelines has become important for regulators because methane is a potent greenhouse gas.
The oil and gas industry was responsible for nearly 30% of the nation’s methane emissions in 2018, and methane accounted for 10% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA.
The Trump administration is eliminating the twice-yearly requirement for companies to inspect for methane leaks on equipment installed after 2015 at well sites and downstream segments, such as pipelines, compressor stations and storage tanks. Leaks must be fixed.
Supporters of the rule maintained that, based on reports the companies file, it seemed to be helping reduce methane emissions. They also pointed to the EPA’s acknowledgment in its technical analysis that its rule changes will increase emissions of methane and smog-forming compounds.
Operators will still have to check equipment for leaks of smog-forming compounds at some higher-producing well sites, but Thursday’s changes relaxed those standards and producers won’t have to inspect pipelines or downstream equipment anymore.
Any leaks they fix help capture methane, and companies say they have a financial incentive to voluntarily fix leaks to ensure that methane gets to customers, rather than going into the atmosphere.
But, far more importantly, killing the methane emissions rule also blocks a legal requirement for the EPA to extend the rule to cover many more pieces of equipment installed before 2015, environmental advocates say.