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US seeks long delays to methane regulations: Update

14 Jun 2017 16:56 (+01:00 GMT)
US seeks long delays to methane regulations: Update

Washington, 14 June (Argus) — President Donald Trump's administration is trying to halt the enforcement of regulations requiring the oil and gas sector to cut emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday proposed to delay by two years, until 2019, methane regulations that only affect new and heavily modified equipment. The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today separately issued a notification it would indefinitely delay more comprehensive methane regulations that would have applied to new and existing oil and gas facilities located on federal land.

Those actions, left unchanged, would effectively block all of former president Barack Obama's regulatory efforts to get the oil and gas industry to reduce its emissions of methane, which represent nearly 3pc of US greenhouse gas emissions. Trump is withdrawing the US from the Paris climate agreement and has vowed to roll back regulations related to climate change.

Trump has said climate change is a "hoax" created by the Chinese despite overwhelming evidence that greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are warming the planet. Methane dissipates in the atmosphere more quickly but has a greater warming effect than CO2.

EPA proposed its two-year delay to provide enough time to reconsider the methane regulations and ensure they do not take effect during that review. The proposal would stay requirements for companies to start detecting for leaks from new equipment, to use low-emission pneumatic controllers in new facilities, and have a certified engineer sign off on new equipment intended to minimize methane emissions. EPA last week issued a temporary three-month stay of the same methane regulations.

EPA estimates the two-year regulatory delay will save the oil and gas sector at least $172mn in compliance costs. The agency did not provide estimates of how the delay would reduce benefits such as averting climate damage or avoiding ill-health effects. EPA also declined to review potential harm to children because it said "any impacts on children's health caused by the delay in the rule will be limited, because the length of the proposed stay is limited."

BLM's methane regulations mirrored the EPA rules but would have applied to all oil and gas facilities on public land starting on 17 January 2018. They also would have requiring operators to reduce flaring and venting of natural gas, which is primarily composed of methane. BLM, in its notification today, said "justice requires" it to postpone the regulations because they are being challenged in court.

"Operators should not be required to expend substantial time and resources to comply with regulatory requirements that may prove short-lived as a result of pending litigation or the administrative review that is already underway," BLM said.

US oil and gas companies have cheered the Trump administration's decision to reconsider the methane regulations. But environmentalists have promised to fight any attempts to unwind the regulations, through a barrage of legal action in court. The Clean Air Council, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups on 5 June filed a lawsuit challenging EPA's three-month stay of the regulations. Environmentalists say they plan to file a subsequent lawsuit if EPA approves the two-year delay.