Trump administration eases rule on methane leaks on public land

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump Administration on Tuesday rolled back an Obama-era rule on emissions of the greenhouse gas methane from oil and gas operations on public lands in its latest step to ease regulations on the industry.

FILE PHOTO: Drill pipe is seen on a drilling site in the Permian Basin oil and natural gas production area near Wink, Texas U.S. August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo

The so-called Waste Prevention Rule was aimed at reducing leaks of natural gas, or methane, that occur through venting and flaring during oil and gas production on federal land.

David Bernhardt, the Interior Department’s deputy secretary, said revisions to the rule reflect President Donald Trump’s policy avoiding “regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain growth and prevent job creation.”

Environmentalists slammed the rollback of the rule, which will not be implemented until after a 60-day comment period.

“The Trump administration is relentless in its push to give the oil and gas industry multi-million-dollar handouts at the expense of Americans’ health and environment,” said David Doniger, the Natural Resource Defense Council’s senior strategic director for climate and clean energy.

Revisions to the Obama-era plan include changes to the percentage of methane that must be captured at drilling locations and measures on well completions and leak detections, the department said.

The Obama administration had said that venting of methane cost taxpayers over $330 million a year in lost revenue from natural gas.

But industry complained that the Waste Prevention Rule would be costly on public lands, where 5 percent of U.S. oil and 9 percent of U.S. gas is produced, and that states with public lands already had their own regulations on the emissions. The rule was challenged in court by the industry and some states, including Wyoming.

The Interior Department said the Obama-era rule would have had a net cost of $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion over 10 years. The Trump administration’s revisions would save drillers about $734 million to $1 billion over 10 years, and lead to more royalty payments that benefit the public, the department said.

Methane is a major force in short-term global warming because it has more than 80 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it escapes into the atmosphere, scientists say. The oil and gas business is the largest single source of the emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Last week, Trump’s EPA proposed weakening requirements for testing and repairing methane leaks in drilling operations, the latest step toward rolling back Obama-era regulations to combat climate change.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has sued the administration over delays in implementation of the Obama-era rules, said his state will do “everything in our power to hold them accountable to our people and planet.”

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Dan Grebler