Congress Restores Pre-Trump Era Methane-Gas Emissions Standards

Congress has moved to restore environmental regulations to limit the amount of methane that leaks from U.S. oil and gas production facilities, reversing a Trump era rollback for the greenhouse gas.

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s top lobbying group, encouraged former President

Donald Trump

to undo 2016 Obama-era methane rules, the first ever federal restrictions on the gas. Regulators said the rollback would save energy producers $100 million a year in compliance costs.

The House voted 229-191 Friday to eliminate those U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules issued last year that eased restrictions on methane gas emissions, including by excluding transmission and storage facilities from limits and cutting compliance measures.

The Senate passed the rollback in April in a 52-42 vote. President

Biden

is expected to sign the measure, which would mark one of the first major federal actions toward reaching his goal of cutting U.S. emissions from their 2005 level in half within the decade.

The White House hasn’t explained how it plans to reach that target. Mr. Biden is pushing for heavy federal spending on innovations such as more efficient batteries and carbon capture technology, measures that could reduce emissions down the line.

Methane, a component of natural gas, can escape as it moves through millions of miles of pipelines on its way to production facilities.

The push to restrict methane emissions came after scientists, whose early climate research focused on carbon dioxide, realized that the gas is more potent at trapping the earth’s heat.

Leak data has also become more reliable over the past decade, bringing the role that the gas plays in climate change into clearer view, said

Mark Brownstein,

senior vice president of energy at the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund. Before the data, the odorless, clear gas made it easy for industry groups to “pretend the problem was minimal or didn’t exist.”

Researchers said recently that cutting methane emissions from energy production, agriculture and other industry sectors could slow the rate of the planet’s warming by as much as 30%.

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The oil and gas lobby initially fought methane regulations but has recently eased up on that effort, including API which now says it supports federal methane regulations.

Major oil and gas producers—

Royal Dutch Shell

PLC,

Exxon Mobil Corp.

,

BP

PLC—said they support methane regulations as they face pressure from investors on climate issues. The costs of the methane restrictions reimposed by Congress will weigh more heavily on smaller operators, industry officials said.

“Keeping methane in the pipes is good for the planet and for business,” said Mary Streett, senior vice president of BP’s U.S. communications & advocacy. “It means that we can sell it as a cleaner fuel source rather than losing it.”

In an interview with WSJ’s Timothy Puko, U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry explains the roles he’d like to see the private sector and countries play in fighting climate change. Photo: Rob Alcaraz/The Wall Street Journal

The measure drew opposition from several Republican members who criticized it for the costs it would impose. “American oil and gas producers are reducing drilling investments, costing jobs and increasing the likelihood of continued price spikes at the pump and at the grocery store,” said Rep. Bill Johnson (R., Ohio) in debate that took place before Friday’s vote.

Methane is likely to be a continued focus of the Biden administration and its climate-focused efforts. In his first day in office, Mr. Biden set a September deadline for EPA officials to consider additional methane emissions limits from oil and gas operations.

Congress also proposed to restrict emissions further. In April, the House Natural Resources committee passed a bill from

Rep. Diana DeGette

(D., Colo.) that sets methane emissions limits for energy producers and would ban flaring and venting at natural-gas drilling sites on public lands. Roughly 10% of U.S. oil and gas comes from public lands.

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