As the final months of the Obama presidency draw to a close, the Regulator in Chief has been keeping quite busy, particularly through the offices of his EPA chief, Gina McCarthy. Yet another jab in the regulation department was delivered this week when the now hilariously named Environmental Protection Agency announced new methane emission standards which will essentially accomplish zero, zilch and nada in terms of total greenhouse gases but will be cripplingly expensive for the energy industry. (Intelligencer)
Because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency believes methane – the main component of natural gas – can be 25 times worse for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, officials Thursday mandated that drillers, processors and pipeliners curb emissions of it by 45 percent.
These methane standards are even stronger than EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy proposed in August. After reviewing more than 900,000 comments, the final plans call for cutting methane emissions by 510,000 tons by 2025. The August plan called for trimming pollution by 400,000 tons by that year.
American oil and gas industry companies are already in a tight corner these days because of sustained low oil prices, and this was one more unscientific, politically oriented blow to their bottom line which was expected but not at all welcome.
West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association Executive Director Corky DeMarco said the new regulation will force operators to shut down some wells that are only marginally productive.
“This is yet another attack by this administration on fossil fuels. We are so blessed in this country to have the resources we have, but they are not letting us reach our potential,” he said. “With the monitoring equipment they are going to require, it won’t make sense to run some of the wells. They will be shut in.”
This story has grown old and tired quickly because the EPA continues to try to blame rising methane levels (which are known to be a powerful greenhouse gas but only make up a tiny sliver of such components in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide) on fracking and other type of oil and natural gas drilling. They’re doing this in spite of the fact that their own government climate experts at NOAA have already said that methane emissions from drilling and other human activity are actually declining, not rising, and account for only a fraction of total methane in the atmosphere. We talked about this over the winter and none of the science behind the question has changed.
It all comes down to the difference between biogenic and thermogenic methane.
Thermogenic methane is released from industrial, energy extraction activity. Biogenic methane occurs naturally and is released due to agricultural activity and the melting of typically frozen ground, widely across eastern Europe and western Asia. Thermogenic methane emissions stopped going up in the 90s and haven’t resumed since. It’s the biogenic methane that’s been on the rise.
Naturally occurring biogenic methane makes up the lion’s share of all methane in the atmosphere now. It seeps out of frozen formations on the ocean floor and the permafrost in northern Europe and Asia, as well as many other sources untouched by man. The reason that the thermogenic methane is on the wane is because it’s the key component in natural gas and drillers don’t like to see their money literally evaporating before their eyes. The industry was already regulating methane leakage to the minimum possible levels without any help from the government. But now the EPA wants to step in and cost the industry vast sums of money to achieve a minuscule reduction.
Why? Are they unaware of the science behind this? That’s unlikely. The more probable explanation is that once again the motivations of the EPA have little or nothing to do with protecting the environment and everything to do with crippling the fossil fuel industry as part of Barack Obama’s legacy before he leaves office.