In 2013, the Obama administration announced the Climate Action Plan to “protect our kids’ health and begin to slow the effects of climate change so we leave a cleaner, more stable environment for future generations.”1 Now that President Donald Trump—who has called climate change a “hoax”—has entered the White House, the Climate Action Plan is in jeopardy.2
Components of the Climate Action Plan are already under attack. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, finalized the first-ever federal limits on methane pollution from the oil and gas sector, the largest industrial source of methane in the United States.3 In November 2016, the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, also finalized a rule to reduce methane leaks and waste from oil and gas operations on public lands.4 Methane is a supercharged global warming pollutant that is 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year timescale.5 Methane emissions are often packed with other pollutants as well, including volatile organic compounds—a key ingredient in smog—and toxic air pollutants.
The oil and gas sector immediately filed suit against the EPA and BLM methane rules and likely will support congressional and administrative action to revoke these standards in 2017. To better understand the parties behind the efforts to nullify the methane limits, the Center for American Progress examined the oil and gas industry trade associations that are suing the EPA and BLM; identified, when possible, the member companies of those associations; and tallied those member companies’ methane pollution levels. CAP found that:
- At least 104 oil and gas production companies are members of the litigating trade associations and reported methane pollution in 2014 or 2015.
- These 104 companies emitted more than 38 million metric tons of methane, measured in carbon dioxide equivalent, in 2015—enough methane to power 4 million homes per year.
Without strong limits on methane pollution from the oil and gas sector, the United States likely will not be able to meet its climate commitments as part of the Paris Agreement.6 Oil and gas companies will face no federal limits on the methane pollution leaking from their operations. And, importantly, communities downwind from those operations will continue to breathe unhealthy air.
Methane pollution standards under attack
As part of the Obama administration’s broader climate change mitigation strategy, it set a goal of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 percent to 45 percent from 2012 emissions levels by 2025.7 To that end, the EPA and BLM finalized two critical rules in 2016 to cut methane pollution from this industry.
In May 2016, the EPA issued the first federal standards to regulate methane emissions from new oil and gas operations.8
Methane can escape at numerous points in the oil and natural gas system—from leaky valves and pipes, for example, or from intentional equipment venting. The EPA rule sets emissions limits for methane pollution from new equipment and facilities and requires oil and gas companies to find and repair methane leaks. It also requires producers to capture methane gas at new oil wells that otherwise would be released into the atmosphere as a byproduct. The EPA estimates that these standards will prevent the release of 510,000 short tons of methane in 2025, which is equivalent to the emissions from the electricity needed to power 1.2 million homes for one year.9 The standards will have the co-benefit of reducing other pollutants by 2025, including 210,000 tons of smog-forming volatile organic compounds and 3,900 tons of air toxins.10
In November 2016, the BLM updated 30-year-old regulations to mitigate the waste of natural gas—the primary component of which is methane—from onshore oil and gas production facilities on public lands.11 The BLM estimates that oil and gas operations on public lands wasted enough natural gas between 2009 and 2015 to serve 6 million households for a year.12
The oil and gas industry, however, came out in opposition to these standards. In August 2016, 24 trade associations representing the oil and gas industry sued the EPA to block the rule. In November, two of these trade associations also filed suit against the BLM.13 (see Sidebar) In filing these lawsuits, many of the groups argued that oil and gas companies should lead the way in reducing methane emissions—and should do so without regulatory oversight. The American Petroleum Institute, or API, for example, warned that the EPA’s new source standards would “disrupt our progress reducing emissions.”14 The Independent Petroleum Association of America called the EPA pollution limits “excessive” and “counterproductive.”15
Some of these trade associations also have expressed support for using administrative or legislative tools in 2017 to prevent the agencies from implementing their methane standards or to block the EPA from promulgating additional standards for existing pollution sources. The president and CEO of API, Jack Gerard, stated the group’s intention to push for the repeal of federal methane standards, and the Western Energy Alliance declared its intention to work with the incoming administration to “roll back many unlawful regulatory orders.”16 Policy observers suggest that the EPA and BLM methane rules could be a top target of a Congressional Review Act resolution of disapproval in the early weeks of the 115th Congress.17
Trade associations that are suing the EPA to block methane pollution standards for the oil and gas sector
- American Exploration & Production Council
- American Petroleum Institute
- Domestic Energy Producers Alliance
- Eastern Kansas Oil and Gas Association
- GPA Midstream Association
- Illinois Oil & Gas Association
- Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia
- Independent Petroleum Association of America*
- Indiana Oil and Gas Association
- International Association of Drilling Contractors
- Interstate Natural Gas Association of America
- Kansas Independent Oil & Gas Association
- Kentucky Oil & Gas Association
- Michigan Oil and Gas Association
- National Stripper Well Association
- North Dakota Petroleum Council
- Ohio Oil and Gas Association
- Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association
- Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association
- Texas Alliance of Energy Producers
- Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association
- Texas Oil and Gas Association
- West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association
- Western Energy Alliance*
* These trade associations also filed suit against the BLM methane waste prevention rule.
Sources: See page 3 of the PDF for complete source information.
Findings: EPA opponents are responsible for significant methane pollution
The member companies of the 24 trade associations listed in the sidebar are responsible for much of the pollution that makes the oil and gas sector the largest industrial source of methane emissions in the United States. (see Text Box)
CAP reviewed these trade associations’ membership lists—when available—and cross-referenced the member companies with those that reported methane emissions to the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, or GHGRP, in 2014 and 2015. When the full membership list was not publicly available, the authors used other lists, such as lists of companies serving on the associations’ boards of directors. (see the Methodology section for a complete discussion of the sources used)
Through its review, CAP found that:
- At least 104 oil and gas production companies reported methane pollution in 2014 or 2015 and are members of these trade associations—and are therefore affiliated with the lawsuits to block the EPA and BLM oil and gas methane standards. This number is likely an underestimate, since not every trade association makes its full membership list public.
- These 104 companies emitted 38.6 million metric tons of methane, measured in carbon dioxide equivalent, in 2014 and 38.1 million metric tons in 2015. The 2015 emissions are equivalent to the emissions generated from running more than 11 coal-fired power plants for a year or the emissions from burning 20 million tons of coal.18 The United States could power 4 million homes for a year with the methane that these companies wasted in 2015.19
CAP’s findings underestimate the total amount of methane pollution from the companies affiliated with the lawsuits for two key reasons. First, the trade associations that are fighting to block the rules represent some companies that may not report their emissions to the GHGRP, which only requires companies to report if they release 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent methane in any given year.20 Second, more than half of the litigating trade associations do not make their full membership lists publicly available. (see Methodology)
Table 1 shows 2014 and 2015 emissions of the oil and gas companies that are confirmed members in at least one of the trade associations currently challenging the EPA’s methane rule. Many companies are members of more than one trade association.
Profiles of key trade associations involved in the EPA litigation
Twenty-four oil and gas associations are suing the EPA over the methane standards for new oil and gas operations. Four of the largest associations are profiled below.
American Exploration & Production Council
The American Exploration & Production Council is a national trade association that represents 32 of the biggest independent oil and gas producers in the country.21 Of those producers, three companies—Exxon Mobil Corp., Chesapeake Energy Corp., and EOG Resources Inc.—are among the top four biggest methane emitters in 2015.22
Independent Petroleum Association of America
The Independent Petroleum Association of America, or IPAA, is one of the largest oil and gas trade associations in the country, representing thousands of companies in the industry.23 Six of the top 10 biggest methane-polluting companies are represented on the IPAA’s board of directors.24 IPAA also is suing to block the BLM methane waste prevention rule.
American Petroleum Institute
The American Petroleum Institute, or API, is a trade association that represents more than 625 oil- and gas-related companies, ranging from multimillion dollar corporations to independently owned producers to refiners and pipeline operators.25 All of the top 10 methane-emitting companies in 2015 are members of API.26
Western Energy Alliance
The Western Energy Alliance, or WEA, represents more than 300 oil and gas companies engaged in exploration and production in the American West.27 Several of the top methane emitters—including Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Devon Energy Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp., and EOG Resources Inc.—are members of the WEA’s board of directors.28 WEA also is suing to block the BLM methane waste prevention rule.
Addressing methane emissions is essential to protecting the health of Americans and to achieving the goals of the U.S. Climate Action Plan. Unfortunately, the oil and gas industry is fighting the first-ever methane limits for the oil and gas sector and suing the EPA and BLM to defend its ability to pollute. With the close ties among the oil and gas industry, the new Trump administration, and their allies in Congress, the trade associations working to block methane pollution limits may soon be guiding the future of environmental and health protections.
CAP obtained and downloaded company-level data from the EPA’s GHGRP in November 2016. The EPA data reflect the data that companies reported to the EPA in August 2016.29
CAP worked to compile membership lists for the trade associations that have filed suit against the EPA, two of which have also filed suit against the BLM. Many of the trade associations—15 of 24—do not make their full membership lists public. For those trade associations, CAP identified the corporate members of the associations’ boards of directors. The Michigan Oil and Gas Association does not make its membership nor its board of directors publicly available. Because of these methodological limitations, the authors’ findings likely underestimate the amount of methane pollution represented by the member companies of the litigating trade associations.
The list below shows what sources each association makes publicly available—including membership lists, boards of directors, and executive committees.
- American Exploration & Production Council: Full membership list30
- American Petroleum Institute: Full membership list31
- Domestic Energy Producers Alliance: Executive committee and board members only32
- Eastern Kansas Oil & Gas Association: Board members only33
- GPA Midstream Association: Full membership list34
- Illinois Oil & Gas Association: Board of directors only35
- Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia: Board of directors and executive committees36
- Independent Petroleum Association of America: Board of directors and a limited list of corporate members37
- Indiana Oil and Gas Association: Full membership list38
- International Association of Drilling Contractors: Full producer membership list39
- Interstate Natural Gas Association of America: Full membership list40
- Kansas Independent Oil & Gas Association: Board of directors, committees, and officers41
- Kentucky Oil & Gas Association: Board of directors only42
- Michigan Oil and Gas Association: Not available
- National Stripper Well Association: Executive committee and board of directors only43
- North Dakota Petroleum Council: Board of directors only44
- Ohio Oil and Gas Association: Full membership list45
- Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association: Executive committee and board of directors only46
- Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association: Current officers and executive committee, 2013–2014 membership list47
- Texas Alliance of Energy Producers: Executive committee and board of directors only48
- Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association: Board of directors and members of individual committees49
- Texas Oil and Gas Association: Board of directors only50
- West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association: Full membership list51
- Western Energy Alliance: Board of directors and advisors only52
Erin Auel is a Research Associate for the Energy Policy team at the Center for American Progress. Alison Cassady is Director of Domestic Energy Policy at the Center. Julie Katsnelson was an intern at the Center.