The Environmental Protection Agency proposed on Tuesday to roll back Obama-era regulations targeting methane leaks from oil and gas drillers and fracking operations.
The methane emissions rules were part of the Obama administration’s climate agenda, which targeted methane as a short-lived greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide.
The proposed improvements to the 2016 New Source Performance Standards for the oil and gas industry look to streamline implementation, reduce duplicative EPA and state requirements, and significantly decrease unnecessary burdens on domestic energy producers, the EPA said Tuesday morning.
“Removing these excessive regulatory burdens will generate roughly $484 million in cost savings and support increased domestic energy production — a top priority of President Trump,” said Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
The cost savings that Wheeler described would be over a six year period from 2019 to 2025. The annual cost savings to the industry would be $75 million.
“These common-sense reforms will alleviate unnecessary and duplicative red tape and give the energy sector the regulatory certainty it needs to continue providing affordable and reliable energy to the American people,” Wheeler added.
EPA’s plan would soften a 2016 rule that required oil and gas drillers to inspect leaks every six months, and to repair leaks within 30 days.
The proposed rule would permit drillers to do inspections every year, and give them 60 days to make repairs.
The proposal would also allow companies operating in states with weaker methane standards to follow those instead of federal rules.
Natural gas overtaking coal as America’s most-used electricity source is responsible for most of the decline in planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions over the last few decades.
But the industry has struggled to contain leaks of methane from its operations.
Methane, the main component in natural gas, is more potent than carbon dioxide because it traps more heat, although its greenhouse gas emissions are relatively short-lived in the atmosphere.
Methane is responsible for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, with the oil and gas industry accounting for a quarter of methane emissions.
A study this summer published in the journal Science found that methane leaks are a bigger problem than federal agencies say it is. The study found oil and gas operations have a methane leak rate of 2.3 percent, compared with the EPA’s estimate of 1.4 percent figure, a 60 percent difference.
While leaks are infrequent, companies have an economic incentive to plug them. The industry prefers to participate in voluntary initiatives to limit methane leaks, however, instead of federal regulation that companies consider expensive and time-consuming.
Some of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies, including BP, Exxon, Shell, and Total, are signatories to a pledge to reduce emissions called Methane Guiding Principles, although the initiative does not include binding targets.