By FRANCES LAMBERTS
On May 10, the U.S. Senate voted to uphold an Obama-era rule to reduce methane and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions in oil and gas drilling operations on federal lands. The former gases are hazardous air pollutants with substantial health consequences.
The greenhouse gas methane is far more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere, seriously aggravating global warming.
A guest commentary last week bashed this “so-called rule.”
Robert A. Bradley’s complaints against it were like those of other free market advocates who reject as “interference from Uncle Sam” any constructive role for government in shaping health and other common-good policies, and in protecting the nation’s natural resources.
Formerly a public policy analyst at Enron, Mr. Bradley founded the Washington think tank with ample funding from the Koch Brothers and other, oil-and-coal industry enterprises.
As reported in a series of exposures by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Institute for Energy Research was part of a network of front groups for fossil-fuel interests, with mission to inundate media sources with misinformation about the science of climate change, and to lobby the Congress against any positive policy actions to stem its effects.
Far from the Rule being a last minute, “midnight” imposition on the industry, it was published in the Federal Register on June 3, 2016, with effective date of August 2 that year.
Proposed a year earlier with extensive input from industry and environmental groups, states and tribes, its finalization process had involved public hearings and review of more than 900,000 public comments received.
Among its “onerous” and too-costly requirements are such as that drilling wells are to be monitored for methane leakages twice a year, and compressor stations four times a year. Energy production companies can harmonize their actions with state methane regulation requirements, where these exist.
The claim as to the industry having made “huge headway” in reducing emissions on its own in recent years can be doubted, at the least.
A February 2017 research article out of Harvard University reported that most of a staggering 30 percent increase in global methane emissions in the last decade has come from the United Sates, largely due to shale gas drilling.
The emissions are not innocuous, as claimed. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates methane’s global warming potential to be 72 times that of CO2 over 20 years, or 25 times higher over a 100-year span.
Through analysis of air trapped in Antarctic and Greenland ice cores, scientists have found methane — as well as CO2 — to have risen and fallen in direct relation to global temperatures, over the last 650,000 years.
Given the dangers of methane, I am grateful for the Senate vote upholding the Rule. Although omitted in the guest commentary, this success is due to courageous action by three Republicans — Senators John McCain (Ariz), Lindsay Graham (S.C.) and Susan Collins (Maine). In line with their acknowledgment of the reality of climate change, and their past efforts at legislation to curb its disastrous effects, they voted with the Democrats to reject its repeal.