The Trump administration announced its latest proposal to reverse Obama-era regulations on greenhouse gases on Thursday, the latest proposal targeting restrictions on the release of methane from oil and natural gas operations.
The Trump administration has argued those regulations were too burdensome on the industry. The new rules follow the president's directive to lift regulations on the energy sector in favor of expanding oil and natural gas production.
EPA's acting air chief Anne Isdal told reporters they expect methane emissions to continue to decrease, however, because there is an economic incentive for companies to reduce leaks and other emissions.
The Environmental Protection Agency proposal would remove parts of the natural gas production process from methane restrictions, including compressor stations and underground storage.
"The agency is proposing that the addition of these sources to the 2016 rule was not appropriate, noting that the agency did not make a separate finding to determine that the emissions from the transmission and storage segment of the industry causes or significantly contributes to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare," the agency said in a statement.
The rule would revoke limits on methane emissions for other parts of the industry it says are redundant because it already regulates volatile organic compounds, including methane. The announcement comes almost a year after EPA proposed a different rule to limit other methane restrictions.
Methane is less prevalent than carbon dioxide but is considered a more potent greenhouse gas because it absorbs more energy and can contribute more to warming in the atmosphere. EPA says methane is more than 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in how much warming it can contribute to the atmosphere over time.
More than 30% of methane released in the U.S. in 2017 was from oil and natural gas operations, according to EPA.
Major oil and natural gas companies like Shell, BP and Exxon have said they support federal limits on methane emissions and are already taking steps to reduce emissions and prevent leaks.
"I urged the Administration earlier this year to write a rule for existing sources because I believe EPA’s commitment to cost-effective regulations makes it uniquely qualified to write a workable rule," Shell U.S. President Gretchen Watkins said in a statement.
"Shell remains committed to achieving our target of maintaining methane emissions intensity below 0.2% by 2025 for all operated assets globally. Despite the Administration’s proposal to no longer regulate methane, Shell’s U.S. assets will continue to contribute to that global target. Additionally, Shell remains committed to cutting the Net Carbon Footprint of our energy products by around half by 2050. While the law may change in this instance, our environmental commitments will stand."
Isdal said the agency also considered smaller producers and that the rule doesn't preclude companies from taking additional steps to reduce methane emissions. An EPA fact sheet shows the changes would result in an estimated 370,000 short tons of methane emissions that would have been prevented under the old rule and the EPA says the proposal would save the oil and natural gas industry $17 to $19 million a year.
Methane accounts for roughly 10% of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity in the U.S, according to EPA data, mostly from natural gas production and livestock operations.
Like many of the administration's proposals the rule is expected to face legal challenges from environmental groups that slammed the proposed rule, saying it gives the oil and gas industry a free pass and negates the argument that natural gas is a cleaner source of energy than other fossil fuels.
EPA's proposed rule will be posted for 60 days of public comment.