A gas flare at a natural gas processing facility near Williston, North Dakota. Photo: Matthew Brown / Associated Press

By Evan Halper
6 October 2017

(The Los Angeles Times) – The Trump administration is not giving up on its effort to block Obama-era restrictions on the release of potent methane emissions at oil and gas drilling operations on public land, even after a federal judge ruled its suspension of the restrictions was illegal.

The court ruling came Wednesday at the behest of California and other states, which charged the administration is required by law to enforce the new rules intended to cut the release of 175,000 tons of the potent greenhouse gas annually, as well as reduce the emission of associated toxic pollutants. The rules took effect on 17 January 2017, just three days before President Trump’s inauguration. Companies have until the end of the year to comply.

The Interior Department had been delaying enforcement as it mapped out a strategy to rescind the new rules, which industry has complained are onerous. An earlier push by opponents of new methane restrictions to kill them in Congress fell short of the needed votes amid a backlash from environmentalists and landowners adversely affected by pollution from drilling.

The ruling was the latest in a series of legal setbacks for the Trump administration, as the courts find flaws in its plans for dismantling executive branch actions taken under President Obama to confront climate change.

On Thursday, department officials said they will continue to proceed with a separate proposal that would push back until January 2019 the deadline for complying with the methane rule, which the department is looking into ultimately eliminating altogether. The move leaves energy companies in limbo. If the fresh effort to suspend the rules fails, companies that were relying on it for relief could find themselves with little time to retrofit their facilities before facing penalties early next year.

The new rules cover nearly 100,000 oil and gas wells on federally owned land. The methane they leak is one of the most potent accelerators of climate change, 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. The new restrictions require the energy companies that own the wells to capture more of the methane and convert it into electricity.

The amount of methane escaping each year is enough to provide electricity for nearly 740,000 homes. [more]

Trump administration ordered to enforce methane restrictions launched under Obama

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