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Trump Interior Department will delay methane emissions rules for oil and gas industry

  • The Interior Department will delay for one year implementing rules meant to capture methane emissions from oil and gas operations.
  • The department is seeking to water down or scrap the rules and wants to avoid imposing compliance costs on energy firms since it may ultimately kill the regulations.
  • Methane accounts for 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke
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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

The Interior Department will propose a one-year delay to methane emissions rules while it considers weakening or rescinding the oil and gas industry regulations.

The rules in question, finalized under President Barack Obama, are meant to reduce leaking, venting and flaring of planet-warming methane from drilling activity. The Trump administration is seeking to roll back the Bureau of Land Management rules as part of a wider agenda of energy sector deregulation.

The BLM "wants to avoid imposing temporary or permanent compliance costs on operators for requirements that may be rescinded or significantly revised in the near future," the Interior Department said in a document it will publish in the Federal Register on Thursday.

It is also seeking to "avoid expending scarce agency resources on implementation activities ... for such potentially transitory requirements."

Among the rules that BLM plans to delay until January 2019 are requirements that oil and gas producers submit plans to cut waste, measure and report gas flared from wells and dispose of gas that reaches the surface during drilling and well completion.

The Interior Department says some of the rules impose unacceptable financial costs on oil and gas companies and asserts that several overlap with EPA regulations. The bureau will open a period of public comment on the regulations.

Methane accounts for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It lingers in the atmosphere for a shorter period than carbon dioxide, but its radiation-trapping impact is more than 25 times greater than CO2.

Environmentalist groups decried the move to delay implementation.

"By suspending the BLM methane rule, Interior Secretary [Ryan] Zinke and the Trump Administration make clear that they're fine with wasting taxpayer dollars and polluting our air so long as it helps their billionaire and lobbyist cronies," Lauren Pagel, policy director at Earthworks, said in a statement.

The BLM methane rules featured in an early conflict between the White House and Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins. The lawmakers blocked an effort to scrap the rules using the Congressional Review Act, an arcane legislative tool that the GOP has deployed liberally this year to kill Obama-era regulations.

McCain expressed reservations about the rules and supported revising them, but said, "Improving the control of methane emissions is an important public health and air quality issue."

Some oil and gas companies have taken voluntary measures to reduce their methane emissions. Exxon Mobil announced last month it would expand its efforts to capture emissions from its subsidary, XTO Energy, which focuses on U.S. shale drilling.

The EPA is also expected this week to announce plans to repeal and replace the Clean Power Plan, Obama's signature effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Trump and several of his cabinet members deny the consensus among climate scientists that carbon dioxide from human activity is the primary cause of global warming.

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