In early May of 2018, the price of oil surged to over $70 per barrel, marking the highest oil prices in four years. In turn, prices at the pump shot up to approximately $3 per gallon, per the national average. While the price of a barrel of oil is far from its highest, the price surge seems to go against the explosion of domestic energy production. The United States has become a world leader in oil production and has amassed great amounts of natural gas from areas in the Midwest and east coast.
Perhaps a factor in the high oil prices are from Obama-era restrictions on methane emissions for oil and gas production. In 2015, President Obama directed the EPA to restrict methane emissions. Methane is the primary component of natural gas. When there are leaks in natural gas, methane escapes. According to some, methane is the main cause of climate change. In fact, they point out, that from 2004-2012, there was a 3% increase in methane in the atmosphere. This contrasts with prior years when there was little or no increase in methane in the atmosphere.
According to the then-EPA administration, the emission of methane gas has 25 times greater effect on climate change than carbon dioxide.
Sources of Increased Methane
Some scientists point to the increase of the population as the trigger for an increase in methane. They point to more livestock, more rice fields, and more dead animals as a result of feeding a larger population of the planet. This, they claim, is the source for increasing atmospheric methane.
They also point to leaks in oil and gas production, as mentioned before, contributing to the methane problem. Specifically, they point to fracking as a significant cause of methane emissions. The amount of fracking, including the refracking of wells, has grown tremendously over the past several years.
Under President Trump, the EPA has taken a more anti-climate change stance and has sought to undo Obama-era methane restrictions. The EPA announced that it would be rolling back the methane restriction as too restrictive on oil and gas producers. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced a 90-day moratorium on enforcement of methane restrictions. He later said that it would be extended for two years.
Specifically, Pruitt noted that the regulations were arbitrary and capricious.
Alex Forrest is currently the chief prosecutor for the Harris County Environmental Crimes Division of the Harris County District Attorney's Office in Houston, Texas. This blog is intended to keep the public informed on recent changes in environmental law.