Reversal of Methane Rule Called Threat to Utah Air Quality
SALT LAKE CITY – In its push for what it calls energy dominance, the Trump administration this week reversed Obama-era rules to limit methane leaks in the oil and gas industry.
Conservation groups say the move will have consequences in Utah.
In the process of drilling for oil and gas, the greenhouse gas methane can leak into the atmosphere. Technology is available to trap the methane, and many producers have adopted it rather than waste natural gas that can be sold.
But those equipment upgrades can be expensive. Ashley Korenblat, managing director with the Moab-based group Public Land Solutions, says that's why the government in 2016 took steps to regulate the issue.
"The oil and gas industry is in the business of making a profit, and they don't want to buy new technologies if they don't have to,” says Korenblat. “But we should all care about how our energy policy works, because we all use energy, and we also all breathe air."
Korenblat says easing of federal rules essentially leaves it up to states to establish their own guidelines for the oil and gas industry. She thinks it should be a high priority for Utah lawmakers, pointing to areas like the Uintah Basin, where drilling has been shown to contribute to high ozone pollution.
Methane can be an even more powerful contributor to climate change than carbon dioxide. But in its final ruling, the Interior Department called rule to prevent methane leaks "burdensome to operators."
Korenblat doesn't think the potential economic benefits justify the rule change.
"It's a 'short-term, long-term' question,” she explains. “If communities don't require their oil and gas industry to use best practices, it looks like they're going to end up paying for that in the long run with bad air quality."
A Colorado College survey of Utah voters this year found more than 80 percent support requiring oil and gas producers on public lands to use updated equipment to prevent methane leaks.