API attacks on methane safeguards contradict science and drag the industry backwards

Methane is a powerful pollutant responsible for more than 25 percent of climate change we experience today—and the oil and gas sector is the largest industrial source of methane emissions. Recent scientific evidence only underscores the importance of addressing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

Unfortunately, at the request of the American Petroleum Institute (API) and others in industry, the Trump administration has issued a proposal to dramatically weaken common sense standards that address oil and gas emissions, allowing for an increase in pollution. In addition, reports suggest that EPA is moving forward with a second proposal that could entirely remove the direct regulation of methane in the oil and gas sector, which would fly in the face of the well-established scientific record documenting the harms of this powerful pollutant and would disregard the substantial amount of pollution emitted from oil and gas sources.

While some companies like Exxon and Shell are increasingly recognizing the critical importance of taking actions (including supporting methane regulations) to reduce this harmful pollution, API is doing its best to drag the industry backwards by pushing EPA to disregard the scientific evidence and deregulate methane altogether.

In December, the industry association continued its longstanding opposition to methane safeguards in its comments on EPA’s first proposal to weaken common sense methane standards for new and modified sources in the oil and natural gas sector. API’s comments encouraged EPA to dramatically weaken current requirements, and suggested that the agency does not need to regulate methane emissions directly—despite the oil and gas industry’s well-recognized methane problem. ExxonMobil and other companies broadly endorsed API comments on weakening current requirements, a position at odds with company commitments to support sound and effective methane regulation. However, ExxonMobil did break from API by urging EPA to continue regulating methane emissions directly – an important recognition of the threat methane poses.

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Unfortunately, many companies, including some that have made commitments to methane reduction, continue to allow API to speak for them—tacitly endorsing a position at odds with science that only deepens risks to industry’s license-to-operate. Now is the time for responsible companies, who themselves have recognized the importance of addressing this significant problem, to distance themselves from API’s harmful positions.

API’s longstanding opposition to methane regulation

API’s recent comments continue its long history of trying to block progress on methane reductions. For example, when EPA was first developing methane standards for new facilities in the oil and gas industry in 2015, API argued that direct regulation of methane was “unlawful” and “unnecessary,” claiming methane emissions from the sector aren’t a significant contributor to climate change. This opposition stemmed in part from the group’s recognition that methane standards for new sources “would trigger an obligation” for EPA to address pollution from existing oil and natural gas sources—which account for the vast majority of methane emissions from the sector. While EPA rejected API’s arguments in the final 2016 new source standards, API has continued to push for weakening and removal of methane standards in its most recent comments while making claims that voluntary initiatives are sufficient to address the industry’s methane issues.

API’s positions are increasingly out-of-step with industry leaders, such as ExxonMobil and other companies in the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), which recognize the threat that methane emissions poses for both the climate and for any future role of natural gas.

A dangerous stance

Fundamentally, API’s opposition to methane regulation (and resistance to even recognizing methane as a pollutant) ignores the serious harm posed by methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. EPA recognized this threat in 2016 when it adopted the New Source Performance Standards for the oil and gas industry (NSPS), where the agency underscored, based on extensive evidence, that methane is a harmful pollutant and the oil and gas sector is a substantial source of this pollution. The agency concluded it had an obligation to adopt common sense standards to reduce the pollution.

Since the finalization of the NSPS, new evidence has emerged conveying the scale of oil and gas methane pollution, such as a study last year that found methane emissions from the industry are more than 60% higher than estimated by EPA. The new data, combined with the destructive impacts of climate change, only reinforce the importance of addressing this powerful pollution. Just this month, a new paper from the American Geophysical Union described atmospheric methane’s increase since 2007, saying methane reductions from the oil and gas industry are urgently needed and “essential” to meeting global climate protection goals.

API’s attempts to encourage the Trump administration to remove methane regulation completely ignore this overwhelming (and growing) body of scientific information. Previous Trump administration attempts to deregulate the oil and gas sector—where the agency took actions at odds with the underlying factual record—have already run afoul of the courts. EPA’s recent proposal exhibits these same shortcomings.

Should EPA move forward with a proposal to remove methane regulation, as urged by API, the agency would be disregarding an enormous body of scientific evidence and doubling down on its deeply flawed approach. Even as some in industry recognize that their continued legitimacy in the public sphere depends on recognizing climate science and taking action in line with widely shared and scientifically-based climate goals, they continue to endorse API’s retrograde advocacy.

And while companies like Exxon have recognized standards for controlling methane emissions from existing sources are important to reduce this harmful pollution, as well as feasible and critical for natural gas’ future in the clean energy transition, API continues to reflexively oppose regulation at these facilities. This lowest common denominator approach is out of step with the successful methane management programs that many API member companies are already implementing, including at existing sources. For example, companies like Noble and Anadarko are complying with—and thriving under—protective Colorado leak detection standards for existing sources. Other companies are going beyond compliance and making investments in the future of methane mitigation, as Equinor has with their work on drone-based mobile methane monitoring.

EDF supports companies’ commitments to reduce methane emissions from their own operations and has worked with industry to develop innovative methane solutions. However, market incentives and voluntary reductions aren’t enough to address the full scope of the methane problem in the oil and gas sector, as API has long claimed. Because companies capture additional product when they cut methane emissions, methane abatement programs are often extremely cost-effective—but pure market mechanisms do not account for the harm to society from methane, and are therefore insufficient to drive the emissions reductions that are needed from the industry, as Catherine Hausman of the University of Michigan described in a recent policy brief. Likewise, voluntary programs don’t address the full scope of the problem—for instance, only about one percent of America’s thousands of oil and natural gas producers are members of API’s voluntary program to address methane emissions, the Environmental Partnership.

Strong methane regulations are needed to provide protections for all Americans and a baseline, level playing field for all in the industry. API’s advocacy against methane regulations ignores the clear health and environmental threat of unchecked methane emissions and further exacerbates risks the industry faces as investors and consumers increasingly demand clean energy. It is time for industry leaders to stop allowing API to drag them backwards.

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