The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it is withdrawing its request for operators of existing oil and gas wells to provide extensive equipment and emissions information – undermining another climate change initiative kick-started by the Obama administration.
The request for emissions information
In March 2016 the Obama Administration and EPA announced new regulation to help reduce emissions of methane from the oil and natural gas industry. The EPA required companies operating oil and gas sources to provide detailed information that would assist in the development of comprehensive emissions regulation. However, to obtain company data, the EPA needed to introduce a formal process.
In May 2016 the agency issued the first draft of an Information Collection Request (ICR). The agency announced plans to issue a Request for Information to gather insight on the innovative strategies that could accurately and cost-effectively locate, measure and mitigate methane emissions.
After two further drafts, the final ICR was approved in November 2016. However, this month the EPA withdrew the request.
No more business burden
Following the ICR release, the EPA faced opposition from several conservative and oil-producing states. Some recipients complained that the information request: “furthers the previous administration’s climate agenda and supports … the imposition of burdensome climate rules on existing sites, the cost and expense of which will be enormous.” Critics argued that the gathering of large amounts of information imposed significant costs on companies to produce additional paperwork, while technical teams would need to prepare and submit comments under time constraints. Taking these complaints seriously, the EPA withdrew the ICR.
The economic effect
The EPA’s shock announcement further advances efforts by the White House to undo the Obama administration’s efforts to regulate emissions from oil and gas production.
On 3rd February 2017 President Trump’s administration voted to overturn President Obama’s rule that sought to reduce methane emissions being released into the environment. Two weeks later, President Trump signed legislation to roll back anti-corruption rules for energy companies.
The Obama administration’s partnership with the EPA was an attempt to gather information about methane, a short-lived but extremely powerful climate pollutant responsible for a quarter of global warming to date. Environmental advocates claimed that the EPA withdrawing its ICR was evidence of the government enabling oil and gas companies to withhold vital pollution data from the public. The lack of transparency could signal the Trump administration’s reluctance to control oil companies that are producing unsafe, unmanageable levels of methane emissions.