Friday, August 14, 2020

Relaxing Pollution Controls

The Environmental Protection Agency is revoking rules that require oil and gas drillers to detect and fix leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas that heats the planet far faster than carbon dioxide. Methane has a much more potent short-term warming effect than CO2 and addressing it is critical to slowing global heating as the world is already on track to become more than 3C hotter than before industrialization. Roughly a quarter of global warming the planet has experienced in recent decades has been due to methane, said Robert Howarth, a researcher who studies methane at Cornell University. The oil and gas industry is the biggest source of the pollutant.

Agency administrator, Andrew Wheeler, will announce the rollback from Pennsylvania, which has major oil and gas operations and is also a politically important swing state. The rule change is part of what Trump calls his “energy dominance” agenda. The methane rollbacks are part of a broad deregulatory campaign by the Trump administration, which has weakened environment and climate standards.

In 2016 Obama enacted rules and regulations in an effort to help stall climate change during a boom in fracking – a method of extracting fossil gas by injecting water and chemicals underground. The regulations required companies to regularly check for methane leaks from valves, pipelines and tanks. Even those in the large oil companies have argued for keeping the rules, saying they are needed so the industry can limit its climate footprint as it markets gas as a smart alternative to coal – which emits far more carbon dioxide.

Methane emitted today is largely gone in 30 years and totally gone in about 60 years, but it has a big effect on the climate in the meantime. That effect is most significant in the first months methane is released, when it is about 120 times stronger than carbon. That drops to around 86 times more powerful over 20 years and 33 times more powerful if compared with carbon over 100 years. Reductions in carbon have a delayed effect on temperatures. But reductions in methane have a more immediate impact. By 2021, methane emissions from existing oil and gas operations could total 9.8m metric tons,  a report from the Environmental Defense Fund. EPA could cut that amount by 37%, or 3.6m metric tons.

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