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Oil and gas industry must oppose Trump methane rollback

Oil and gas industry must oppose Trump methane rollback
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Some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies have successfully lobbied the Trump administration to weaken Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safeguards that protect communities and the climate from methane and associated air pollution released by oil and gas production.

What’s new is that many of the world’s largest oil companies — including Shell, BP and Chevron — just formed the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) to combat climate change by reducing their methane emissions. Some OGCI members, such as ExxonMobil, have gone even further by explicitly endorsing the need for federal regulation of oil and gas industry methane emissions.

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OGCI companies, which claim to represent 30 percent of the world’s oil and gas production, collectively have promised to behave more responsibly than required by the existing EPA methane standards through “practical actions on climate change.”

Why would an industry whose product is a climate pollutant 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and whose members have backed groups specifically to deny the existence of man-made climate change, now apparently dedicate itself to reducing climate pollution?

Because it believes it must. If the oil and gas industry doesn’t convince the world that it’s acting on climate, it won’t be able to maintain its social license to operate in a world not just threatened by but damaged by climate change.

Two weeks ago, the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change reported the latest consensus on climate science gives the world 12 years to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade, thereby (hopefully) avoiding catastrophic climate change. Over the past month, Hurricanes Michael and Florence struck the Southeast, affecting communities that have been part of the Republican bulwark against congressional climate action, and may have changed some people’s minds about the effects of climate change.

Over the past year, lawsuits holding the oil and gas industry responsible for climate change denial were filed in the United States and around the world. In one of the latest, the state of New York on Wednesday sued ExxonMobil for allegedly defrauding investors regarding climate risk.

Unfortunately, while the oil and gas industry sincerely believes it must convince the world it’s acting on climate change, its sincerity doesn’t yet extend to changing how it actually operates.

My organization, Earthworks, is in the field recording the methane and associated toxic air pollution that oil and gas production emits. Our certified thermographers (certified by same body that certifies regulators and industry) use optical gas-imaging cameras (the same cameras that regulators and industry use, for the same purpose) to record and make visible the normally invisible air pollution. Our 700-plus videos taken at facilities around the United States demonstrate that the oil and gas industry still emits methane and volatile organic compounds such as benzene, a carcinogen.

When confronted with this physical evidence of their pollution, the industry does not apologize and promise to “do better.” Instead, its spokespeople claim that the pollution these $100,000 gas-finder cameras have detected doesn’t exist.

Companies sincerely intent on cleaning up their climate pollution, when shown the evidence, would not respond with denials. A sincere company would not lobby the government privately to avoid requirements to reduce the same pollution it publicly promises to reduce, through OGCI.

It’s past time for OGCI companies — in particular, Shell, Chevron, BP and ExxonMobil — to put up or shut up. We have a climate crisis that even they no longer deny. Yet it seems that the most they are willing to do is pretend to care so they can continue operating as normal. But there is no more “normal.” Instead of creating initiatives that claim to do one thing, while advocating for the opposite, these companies should publicly endorse the existing EPA oil and gas methane safeguards requiring them to do what they have promised to do.

Lauren Pagel is policy director for Earthworks, an environmental nonprofit dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the adverse impacts of resource extraction.