On 2 March 2017, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt rescinded a reporting requirement placed on the oil and natural gas industry by the Obama administration. Specifically, he issued a notice to the industry that their response to a survey regarding methane production in their drilling operations was no longer required. This survey had been one of Obama’s final environmental acts as president and was meant to inform future regulations limiting the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
That survey is described in Pruitt’s notice:
In 2016, EPA sent letters to more than 15,000 owners and operators in the oil and gas industry, requiring them to provide information [regarding 1) methane emissions and 2) other operational data]. […]
EPA is withdrawing both parts of the information request.
As reported by Energy and Environment News, the request for information had been a part of a large-scale effort announced by the Obama EPA in May 2016:
U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy vowed today her agency would work in “the most expedited way we can” to issue regulations for reducing heat-trapping methane emissions from existing oil and gas operations. But it won’t be until early next year — as the Obama administration leaves office — that EPA will finish collecting information needed for those rules.
In a 3 March 2017 story about the EPA’s change of course, Inside Climate News described the Obama Administration’s motivation behind the original directive:
Getting the exact numbers is particularly crucial to understanding whether the nation’s fracking boom will accelerate or could help stall global warming. Although gas-fired power plants release half as much carbon dioxide as coal plants, the extraction, production and transport of natural gas releases unknown amounts of methane.
However, opponents of these methane regulations argued that the request was burdensome and unnecessary, as the industry (which sells methane) already had an economic interest in preventing emissions. In a 12 May 2016 report about the Obama administration’s plans for methane regulation, Sandra Snyder, a lawyer specializing in environmental regulation at Bracewell LLP, said:
Industry has been making great strides to voluntarily reduce its methane emissions because doing so makes economic sense…. Imposing additional reporting and regulatory paperwork obligations is even more burdensome at this time.
In his directive, Pruitt echoed the concerns raised by the industry, questioning the original request for information’s need and describing it as a burden on businesses. The order went into effect the day it was signed, 2 March 2017.