The three NAFTA countries’ joint commitment to reduce production of methane through natural gas and oil production has been thrown into doubt as analysts try to divine the murky intentions of the incoming Trump administration in Washington.
Methane is a shorter-lived greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but 25 times as potent, making it a priority for short-term action on climate change.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Barack Obama first announced tighter methane controls for the fossil industry in March. Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto signed on in June. And this week, Reuters reports, “the U.S. Interior Department finalized rules updating 30-year-old regulations that govern flaring, venting, and natural gas leaks from oil and gas production.” The new rules “would phase in a limit on flaring over several years affecting 16% of oil wells, which account for 87% of gas flared,” Interior notes.
According to a department fact sheet, “oil and gas producers vented, flared, and leaked 462 billion cubic feet of natural gas on federal and Indian lands” between 2009 and 2015. In addition to the releases’ climate impact, the agency states, the practices “wast[ed] as much as $23 million annually in royalty revenue” due to the federal government and U.S. tribes,
The rules pleased environmental groups but angered some western states and prompted one industry group to sue the department’s Bureau of Land Management, Reuters recalls.
A bigger question is how long the new U.S. rules will stand. Trump has promised to do away with all Obama-era regulations meant to protect the climate. And American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard told reporters Tuesday that “methane is a top priority. We’ll be pursuing that aggressively.” According to the Washington Post, the country’s top oil and gas lobbyist claimed the new methane rule added “unnecessary cost and confusion and seems to demonstrate no benefit for all the associated cost.”
Gerard’s stance puts the U.S. industry lobby at odds with a growing number of international, and a few American, producers that have taken up the methane challenge more constructively. One such effort is the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership. The “voluntary effort to improve emissions reporting and accelerate best practices to reduce methane” was launched two years ago, The Energy Collective reports, and includes such fossil majors as BP, Pemex, Repsol, Southwestern Energy, Statoil, and Total. “The companies agreed to seek out ways to survey, assess, and disclose their methane emissions, and find new opportunities to reduce them,” the self-described expert blog reports.