The Battle Over Methane Leaks

The Battle Over Methane Leaks

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Infrared imagery of emissions out of holding reservoir
October 30, 2018

As Washington relaxes standards governing methane leaks, oil and gas industry leaders pledge to limit emissions. An economist and an environmental advocate examine the impact of methane leaks, and the credibility of industry efforts to contain them.

In September, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior pushed forward two separate regulations that will, in effect, hold oil and gas companies less accountable for methane gas emissions into the atmosphere. The new rules ease requirements that energy companies detect and repair methane leaks from wells and pipelines. The Interior rule, which has gone into effect, and the EPA rule, which is now open for 60-days of public comment, are part of a series of Trump administration efforts to undo methane regulations that the same agencies had written during the Obama administration.

The agencies acknowledge that the looser regulations will have a negative climate impact. Methane is a greenhouse gas that can be 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Yet the current administration maintains that the Obama-era rules would place undue economic burden on energy companies, while many energy companies say that they’re already acting to reduce emissions, and the stricter rules are duplicative.

Guests Catherine Hausman, assistant professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, and Ben Ratner of the Environmental Defense Fund, discuss the economic and environmental costs of methane emissions, and how estimates of these costs tend to vary widely. Hausman and Ratner also discuss why methane emissions are so hard to detect, explore initiatives to both speed and lower the cost of containing leaks, and look at whether industry’s voluntary efforts to reduce emissions are enough.

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