Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, trapping heat in the atmosphere 30 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year time frame. But unlike carbon dioxide that can impact the atmosphere for hundreds of years, methane breaks down in about a decade. That means reductions in methane today will have climate benefits in 2031, something that reductions in carbon dioxide are unlikely to achieve.
Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas and is emitted throughout the process of drilling, transporting, and processing natural gas. When oil and gas developers fix leaks and capture escaping methane, they can sell the capture methane offsetting the cost of containment measures.
President Obama developed a regulation requiring periodic inspections to find leaking methane and then requiring the leaks to be fixed in a timely manner. President Trump repealed this regulation. Because the repeal occurred during the last six months of the Trump administration, Congress can repeal the regulation restoring the Obama area rule. Many in the oil and gas industry including Shell, BP, and the Edison Electric Institute (they represent investor-owned electrical utilities) supported reinstating the original rule. The repeal of the weak methane regulation passed the Senate (although 42 Senators voted no), and now goes to the House of Representatives where it is expected to pass, which is a significant step in the right direction.
Note: This is not our first rodeo on this issue. For more background and details (or for more than you really wanted to know, take your pick) see the September, 2020, issue of The Highlands Voice, https://wvhighlands.org/2021/01/04/2020/.