In its continuing war on all regulations—to include those on greenhouse gases and anything Obama passed—Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency last Thursday said it would basically allow “oil and gas operators to largely police themselves when it comes to preventing [methane] from leaking out of new wells, pipelines and other infrastructure.” It turns out that there are lots of leaks.
The big companies (Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell) came out against the new rollback. They don’t want to be seen as “climate villains” or dirty well operators. The little guys, with thousands of leaky wells, can’t afford to clean them up, so they welcomed the Trump plan.
The methane scare got started a couple of years ago when it was revealed that cow farts were major contributors to global warming. The methane in animal burps and farts was seen to play a major role in the big heat-up because methane is eighty-four percent more potent than CO₂ in trapping heat and causes one-quarter of our present global warming. The notion that cow farts are funny sort of undercut the seriousness of these findings.
What got covered up was the fact that livestock and farming, plus landfills, were not the major source of methane. It was, you guessed it, the oil and gas industry. These guys, the drivers of our economy, were “creating one-third of all methane emissions,” says a science writer for ideas.ted.com. “As companies extract and transport oil and natural gas, methane leaks from their pumps, pipelines and wells at a rapid rate . . . leaking 60 percent more of the harmful gas than government estimates had predicted.”
Now we’re told that the recent spike in atmospheric methane could likely be caused by the preponderance of fracking, which produces vast amounts of shale gas and methane. Fracking is done mostly in the U.S. and Canada. The industry touts it as the best replacement for coal and is building out more than 700 fracked gas projects, LNG terminals, and gas-fired electricity plants.
Environmental advocates were universally opposed to the EPA’s action. “This is an unnecessary leap backwards,” adds Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Stanford. “Very few people in the public or the industry want this rollback.”
But to eliminate all fracking, as Bernie Sanders and Jay Inslee have proposed, would be to take on one of the largest, most profitable industries in America. The battle over that would be epic.