The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to weaken Obama-era rules about leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. The agency published an official draft of its proposed rule on Tuesday; it should soon appear on Regulations.gov, where people can leave comments for 60 days.
According to the proposal, oil and gas companies would not have to check their infrastructure for methane leaks as often as they do now. In addition, they would have 60 days, instead of 30, to repair any leaks they find.
Although it isn't as prevalent or long-lasting in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, methane is still an important contributor to climate change. Inadvertent leaks in natural gas infrastructure are a major source of methane emissions. These leaks can occur at every step along the way as companies mine, process, and deliver natural gas to customers.
The United States became one of the few countries to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas production after the Obama administration passed its rule, in 2016. But since then, fossil fuel companies have lobbied for the regulation to be relaxed. "Following promulgation of the final rule, the Administrator received petitions for reconsideration," the EPA notes in the draft published Tuesday.
The current rule is "a record-keeping nightmare that was technically impossible to execute in the field," Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, a trade association for oil and gas companies, told the New York Times.