What you should know about this little-noticed Trump order on methane pollution

Felice Stadler

Buried in the sweeping executive order President Trump signed this week to undo critical climate and public health protections was a provision seeking to overturn limits on methane pollution from the oil and gas industry.

As Trump launches an all-out assault on his predecessor’s climate initiatives, this little-noticed methane provision may seem like a side note. Unfortunately, it could have major implications for our nation.

Rules benefit taxpayers and industry

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized common-sense clean air standards for new and modified oil and gas operations in May 2016 after a multi-year public and technical review. The Bureau of Land Management followed with a similar rule late last year that addresses methane pollution on federal and public lands.

The EPA’s nationwide safeguards, now targeted by the Trump administration, were modeled after methane initiatives already implemented in Colorado and Ohio – programs that have been popular with the public and proven cost-effective for the industry. California followed suit in late March 2017 when it adopted strong rules to cut methane from the state’s oil and gas sector.

The main ingredient in natural gas, methane is a potent greenhouse gas with 84 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it is emitted. America’s oil and gas industry currently releases nearly 10 million metric tons of methane a year, enough to cover the gas needs of more than 7 million homes.

In addition to mitigating a potent climate pollutant, methane protections would capture and reduce smog-forming and toxic air pollution that is released along with methane.

Unsurprisingly, efforts to weaken these rules have run into public and political resistance, also from constituents in key energy-producing states.

America’s oil and gas industry currently releases nearly 10 million metric tons of methane a year.

According to a national poll conducted just last month, 73 percent of Americans support state and federal action requiring the oil and gas industry to reduce gas leaks.

In light of such public sentiment it’s especially troubling that Trump’s executive order would roll back BLM limits on methane waste and pollution on our nation’s federal and tribal lands. Oil and gas development in these areas is widespread and natural gas waste is mounting

Such waste contributes not just to climate and public health risks, but also to millions of dollars in lost royalties that could benefit states, tribes and federal taxpayers.

Congress has even taken the attack against the BLM methane standards a step further. Industry allies in the U.S. Senate are trying to use a blunt, arcane law called the Congressional Review Act to completely kill these protections – potentially blocking future administrations from addressing methane waste on public lands.

These efforts all share a common theme: Favoring the oil and gas polluter lobby at the expense of citizens and our environment. This, surely, is not what America is about.


We are told, "methane is a potent greenhouse gas with 84 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it is emitted."

Felice Stadler should be asking scientists, "If you double methane how much will that run up the temperature in actual degrees, and how long will that take?" Because telling us that it's 84 times more powerful than CO2, doesn't really tell anyone anything.

Steve Case - Milwaukee, WI

Steve Case
March 31, 2017 at 4:49 pm

That's a good point. We'd have to know how much CH4 so we'd know the equivalent CO2 effect. Then we'd have to divide that by the CO2 actually admited. Then we'd know how much greater the warming effect would be. Might be pretty small; certainly not above 1%. Still, it wouldn't be zero.

April 3, 2017 at 8:47 pm

In reply to by Steve Case

BINGO! Let's say you doubled CH4 from 2 parts per million [ppm] to 4 ppm. An equivalent mass of CO2 would be about 0.7 ppm increasing it from 400 ppm to 400.7 ppm. That would cause a very small increase, in temperature and 84 times that would still be rather small. Turns out to be about 0.2°C. And at the rate CH4 is increasing today, it would take nearly 300 years to happen.

Steve Case
April 6, 2017 at 3:50 pm

In reply to by Greg

Hi Steve and Greg,

For context, emissions of methane from human activities currently account for about one-quarter of the excess heat trapped in the atmosphere; CO2 emissions account for about one-half. Natural gas activities, in particular, are responsible for more than a quarter of our methane emissions. Therefore, reductions of methane from natural gas activities can play a major role in reducing warming.

Further, we can reduce these methane emissions using existing technology and at a relatively cheap cost. Therefore, this is one of the most feasible and effective climate change mitigation options.

Ilissa Ocko, EDF climate scientist

Ilissa Ocko
April 7, 2017 at 3:57 pm

In reply to by Greg

It's a good question, but one that can't be answered in precise numbers. Climate is a chaotic system - like weather.
Forecasters may not be qable to tell you exactly how warm it will be, or how many inches of rain you'll see - but they're getting pretty good at seeing the general trends.
Climatologists aren't magicians. They can't tell us how much CO2 or Methane will be needed to raise global temperatures by 1 degree - but they can definitely tell us that an enormous amount of Methane being released is likely to accelerate climate change far faster than CO2 levels alone.
It's like a busload of scientists, politicians, and oil execs are driving through a dense fog, toward a cliff. The scientist are saying "Slow down, there's a cliff!" Oil companies are saying "It's not a cliff, it's just a dip in the road - and we'll see it through the fog in plenty of time." Politicians are saying "It won't affect MY kids, living behind a wall of Police, financially secure, and able to move to wherever the weather is fine. The oil companies have more money than the scientists, so I'll listen to THEM."

Mark E. Rhoads
April 4, 2017 at 9:39 am

In reply to by Steve Case

Methane is an even larger problem in the Arctic. See Arctic News which states humanity will be extinct by 2026 without a drastic reduction in fossil fuels.

24/7 solar powered, engines, capable of replacing fossil fuels are in development. They will replace conventional power plants, as they can scale to large sizes.

Eventually cluster of engines at utility sub-stations can replace wind farms & solar farms.

To the surprise of almost everyone, engines can run 24/7 on ambient heat, a huge untapped reservoir of Solar Energy, larger than Earth’s fossil fuel reserves. A Ford engine conversion proved the concept. See aesopinstitute.org

“The thermal energy content of the atmosphere, ocean, and upper crust is estimated to be more than 10,000 times that of the world's fossil fuel reserves, making it a potentially inexhaustible reservoir of green energy." Prof. Daniel Sheehan, University of San Diego

Most parts can be 3-D printed. Since there is no combustion, polymers (plastics) can be used to make many components.

They will create no chemical emissions and will cool the surrounding area. Contrast with carbon dioxide and heat produced by combustion engines.

Solar powered engines – once verified by an independent laboratory – will be produced using 3-D printing.

Rants by an anonymous individual posing as a (fake) Physics Board uses some truth mixed with blatant lies and distortions, to deflect support for new science, which is traditionally slow to gain acceptance.

Inexpensive engines running 24/7 on ambient heat can soon become as common as solar panels.

Mark Goldes
March 31, 2017 at 6:34 pm

"See Arctic News which states humanity will be extinct by 2026 without a drastic reduction in fossil fuels."

Seriously? I have only nine years to live, and how is Arctic methane going to do me in?

Solar engines running off of ambient heat? There needs to be a temperature gradient to get some power out of it. But it does indeed sound interesting. I'll have to Google Prof. Daniel Sheehan and his 3D printed engines and have a look.

Best regards

Steve Case
April 3, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Global warming is releasing methane from melting permafrost etc. Let's hope Arctic News is wrong! But,you may want to look at the extensive data on their site.

The temperature gradient needed to run engines on ambient heat is created in converted engines by filling them with propane, which acts as a refrigerant, changing from a liquid to a gas. It is not consumed.

These engines extract the heat and become very cold. They can air condition a home as a side effect.

See aesopinstitute.org to learn more.

Mark Goldes
April 5, 2017 at 10:31 am

In reply to by Steve Case

I grew up near Charleston, WV. There was a sign there for "The Chemical Valley" re. all the chemical plants in the area. Methane was produced there and we had several scares back in the 1960's and beyond. Carbide was a huge employer and we still have chemical plants there. We had several frightening incidents and I can still hear the warning sirens going off.

Mary Conner
April 5, 2017 at 7:35 am

No, humanity will not be extinct in nine years.

Alarmist propaganda just makes serious discussion about climate change difficult or impossible. If we don't stay grounded in science, and avoid outlandish exaggerations, we can't really claim any greater degree of impartiality than those who deny it altogether.

This is incredibly important, and we really need to approach the issue with deep understanding and unwavering honesty.

Mark E. Rhoads
April 5, 2017 at 8:30 am

Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Mark. We fully agree that the debate over, and solutions to, the climate change problem must be based on good science.

Karin Rives
April 6, 2017 at 8:11 am

In reply to by Mark E. Rhoads

Methane has a shorter lifespan than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, about 12 years. But it is a potent amplifier of the effects of other greenhouse gases. See NASA: https://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/features/200409_methane/

Chris W
April 5, 2017 at 10:23 am

How much of the 10 million metric tons of methane emitted from the oil and gas industry is emitted as methane and how much of it is burned in the flares shown in the picture associated with this article?

Those flares, often shown to alarm the public, are designed to destroy the methane by burning it, which does emit CO2 but does not emit methane. Let us use good science to evaluate the problem and not alarm the public by comparing apples and oranges. Also be mindful of the very large natural emissions of methane from geological sources as well as huge sources from cows and other livestock.

David Draeger
April 6, 2017 at 12:47 pm

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