Regulatory obsession means war on oil and gas

With the announcement earlier this month of the Clean Power Plan, the war on coal is officially over. The casualties in Appalachia, Northwest Colorado and other mining areas across the country number in the thousands. Consumers’ electricity rates will necessarily skyrocket across the country, but President Obama can claim mission accomplished.

Where does the conquering army now turn? After all, those ideological foot soldiers for greater centralized command and control of the economy can’t just be de-mobilized and sent home.

{mosads}The answer is to gear up for the war on oil and gas. The planning has been in the works for years. There have been some early skirmishes, but with one front quieted, it’s time to open up a new front in the war on fossil fuels. The methane rules for the oil and gas industry announced last week mark the latest assault.

Why shouldn’t the country want to reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas? Well, the industry is doing just that, through technical innovation and compliance with state regulations. Natural gas well emissions are down 38 percent even as production has climbed 26 percent. Emissions from oil facilities are down 21 percent since 1990. Not content with that success, the federal government now targets regulation on production facilities, which represent a very small percentage of U.S. greenhouse gases, while ignoring larger sources elsewhere.

Methane, like carbon dioxide, is a gas found naturally in the atmosphere. It poses no direct health threat. Besides being emitted from other human activities, it seeps naturally from the ground. However, the oil and gas industry is the only one that captures methane in large quantities and puts it to beneficial use. When used for electricity generation, it provides significant clean air benefits.

The industry is investing billions in infrastructure to capture even more methane from oil wells. We’re working with states to reduce emissions while still producing the oil that gets Americans to school and work at an affordable price.

But the federal government isn’t content with that success because the war’s not about providing reliable, affordable energy, or even about environmental benefit. It’s really about making sources of fossil fuels more expensive and scarce.

Besides the four complex rules announced last week, the oil and gas industry has had to engage in over 200 regulatory processes over the last few years. As the complexity of the rules increases, the environmental benefits get progressively smaller. It’s really not about the environment though, because as EPA has obsessed with one industry, it has ignored regulatory obligations regarding others, although we in Colorado would be better off if EPA had ignored old mines also.

As the regulatory fixation on the oil and gas industry intensifies, it’s now time to call it a full-on war. But Americans will be less prosperous, safe, and healthy if the Administration wins these battles. Oil and natural gas provide reliable, affordable energy for electricity, transportation, manufacturing, and home heating while providing the feedstock for medicines, medical devices, smart phones, and anything else made with plastics. Nothing else does all that. The only alternatives favored by the Administration are intermittent electricity sources that must be backed up by natural gas and coal.

These ideological regulatory wars on fossil fuels are really an attack on Americans’ health, safety, and prosperity. The collateral damage will be to all Americans, particularly the poor and others struggling to feed their families, clothe their kids, and heat their homes. When regulation makes energy less reliable and more expensive, the costs are born by all.

Sgamma is vice president of Government and Public Affairs for the Western Energy Alliance.


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