“Exxon urges EPA to maintain methane rules,” proclaimed the Houston Chronicle on December 20. Reuters was even more celebratory: “Exxon Mobil opposes weakening Obama-era emission rules: letter to EPA.” From these headlines and other news articles on ExxonMobil’s comments filed in response to the Administration’s proposal to dramatically weaken the Obama-era new source standards for methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, you’d think that ExxonMobil finally realized that those standards just make sense. And that the oil and gas industry needs strong regulations to curb emissions of methane from their infrastructure to protect public health and mitigate climate change.
Unfortunately, a closer look does not support that interpretation.
In its Dec. 17 letter to EPA that those headlines tout, ExxonMobil expresses support for federal methane standards. But despite what the headlines say, the company stops far short of endorsing the Obama-era EPA methane rules. In their letter, ExxonMobil only said it supports “key elements” of the 2016 Rules, and only to the extent that they are “cost-effective” in the corporation’s eyes.
But their idea of “cost-effective” is much different than what EPA established in the Obama-era methane rules, as evidenced by the ExxonMobil’s support of the comments of the American Petroleum Institute (API). Far from opposing the proposed weakening of the Obama-era methane’ standards, API’s comments support the Trump Administration’s move. Both ExxonMobil and API are in favor of the significant weakening of the leak detection and repair (LDAR) requirements, reducing the frequency of inspections from semi-annual at well sites and quarterly at compressors, to annual at both. The result will be to increase greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants that affect public health.
It’s one thing for a large energy corporation to oppose important pollution regulations and to bear the reputational consequences. But it’s unfortunate when the press mistakenly turns that opposition into “support,” allowing the industry to have it both ways.