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University of Rochester methane study
Credit: University of Rochester. Illustration by Michael Osadciw

Fossil Fuels

Trump Administration Thinks We All Should Breathe More Methane

The EPA is moving forward with its plan to loosen restrictions on methane emissions because the world really needs more atmospheric pollution.

Carbon dioxide and methane are the two most powerful greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for decades, which makes it a long term threat to the environment. Methane stays in the atmosphere for a far shorter time but its heat trapping properties are far greater than those of carbon dioxide. During the Obama administration, new rules were put in place to reduce the amount of methane that escapes from natural gas fracking, drilling, and pipeline operations.

Since the current maladministration came to power in 2017, it has been infiltrated by an army of fossil fuel stooges like Andrew Wheeler, head of the EPA, who is also a former coal lobbyist. Wheeler, who is being cheered on by the potentate in chief, has been on a smash and grab mission to destroy as many climate protection regulations as possible, including a rollback of exhaust emissions standards. Now the EPA is about to gut those Obama-era methane restrictions.

The Fracking Frenzy

America has seen a fracking frenzy for the past several decades as drillers have devised new techniques for releasing oil and natural gas deposits trapped beneath the Earth. That push has sent the price of natural gas plummeting, which is the primary reason coal has declined as the power source of choice for utility companies.

But the fracking boom has largely played out, bringing economic hard times to many parts of the country, particularly in the Permian Basin region that covers large parts of Texas and Oklahoma. Bankruptcies are rising in the industry as many fracking  companies find they can no longer sell the gas they find for enough to pay the costs of drilling. Those companies will be the primary beneficiaries of the loosening of methane emissions rules. They also steadfastly refuse to clean up their well sites when they close them down, leaving taxpayers to shoulder that burden.

Lee Fuller, a vice president at the Independent Petroleum Producers of America, which represents smaller oil and gas companies, tells the New York Times, “the burden of the rule falls overwhelmingly on smaller, independent companies. They have a rule that was written for all these bigger companies. They would basically be continuing to do what they’re already doing now. But these small companies — that rule would just kill them.” So America has made a choice to support small fracking companies rather than protect the environment. Is any more proof needed that this administration is riddled with fossil fuel stooges from top to bottom?

Oddly enough, several of the biggest oil and gas companies have suggested tightening restrictions on methane. Keeping it out of the atmosphere and in pipelines means having more natural gas to sell. Many of the larger companies have invested millions to promote natural gas as a cleaner option than coal in the nation’s power plants and they worry that unrestricted leaks of methane could undermine that marketing message and hurt demand.

Even Exxon urged the EPA in 2018 to maintain core elements of the Obama administration’s policy. Gretchen Watkins, the United States chairwoman for Shell, which has urged the Trump administration to regulate methane emissions, said, “The negative impacts of methane have been widely acknowledged for years, so it’s frustrating and disappointing to see the administration go in a different direction.”

The EPA rollback of methane emissions has brought a swift response from environmental advocates. Peter Zalzal, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund, tells the Times that the new rule is “a deeply misguided action” that “is manifestly inconsistent with the agency’s legal obligations and with the science that shows methane is a dangerous pollutant.”

Source Of Methane Emissions

Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Rochester released a new study that claimed methane emissions from natural sources are 10 times lower than previously believed, while methane emissions from human activity are 25% to 40% higher. (See graphic above.) That study, which was based on ice core samples taken in the Arctic, caused a storm of protest within the scientific community. Still, a chart reflecting monthly methane emissions prepared by NASA shows a sharp upward trend in recent decades.

Global methane emissions

Image credit: NASA

We said at that time, “Whether anthropogenic sources are responsible for a tenth, a third, half, or two-thirds of global methane emissions is not the point. The point is that any methane emissions lead to negative consequences for the environment and should be eliminated to the extent possible. To do otherwise is irrational and irresponsible.”

Irrational and irresponsible are two words that could be used to describe the entire Trump administration, which seems to glory in taking positions that defy common sense and defy any input from the scientific community. The world is facing an existential crisis but Trump and his acolytes are more concerned with stuffing their campaign coffers full of corporate cash — the very definition of corruption. Thankfully, Wednesday, January 20, 2021, will mark the end of an error.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.


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