I'm not talking about the shocking epidemic of methamphetamine use among Riverside County Trump voters. I'm not even talking about methamphetamines at all; I'm talking about methane emissions, the main component of natural gas. On April 24, Hiroko Tabuchi reported for the NY Times on a UN report that will be released next month and declare that "reducing emissions of methane, the main component of natural gas, will need to play a far more vital role in warding off the worst effects of climate change. The global methane assessment, compiled by an international team of scientists, reflects a growing recognition that the world needs to start reining in planet-warming emissions more rapidly, and that abating methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas, will be critical in the short term."
She wrote that the report "follows new data that showed that both carbon dioxide and methane levels in the atmosphere reached record highs last year, even as the coronavirus pandemic brought much of the global economy to a halt. The report also comes as a growing body of scientific evidence has shown that releases of methane from oil and gas production, one of the biggest sources of methane linked to human activity, may be larger than earlier estimates. The report... singles out the fossil fuel industry as holding the greatest potential to cut its methane emissions at little or no cost. It also says that-- unless there is significant deployment of unproven technologies capable of pulling greenhouse gases out of the air-- expanding the use of natural gas is incompatible with keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal of the international Paris Agreement."
The reason methane would be particularly valuable in the short-term fight against climate change: While methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, it is also relatively short-lived, lasting just a decade or so in the atmosphere before breaking down. That means cutting new methane emissions today, and starting to reduce methane concentrations in the atmosphere, could more quickly help the world meet its midcentury targets for fighting global warming.
By contrast, carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, lasts for hundreds of years in the atmosphere. So while it remains critical to keep reducing carbon emissions, which make up the bulk of our greenhouse gas emissions, it would take until the second half of the century to see the climate effects.
Over all, a concerted effort to reduce methane from the fossil fuel, waste and agricultural sectors could slash methane emissions by as much as 45 percent by 2030, helping to avoid nearly 0.3 degrees Celsius of global warming as early as the 2040s, the report says.
This past Wednesday, the Senate took up a proposal to reverse Trump's effort to unravel restrictions of methane emissions. It passed 52-42, every Democrat plus Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Rob Portman (R-OH), voting against the GOP position and for the future of mankind. Among those voting in favor of global warming were Trump-hating conservative Mitt Romney and both Florida senators, Rubio and Scott, in a state, no less, where most voters are very worried about the impact of climate change on their lives. After Rubio voted, Alan Grayson, who plans to run for the Senate seat he's occupying, noted that "It’s remarkable how the GOP is, quite shamelessly, in favor of pollution." The House will vote on the same proposal and is expected to also shit-can the Trumpist regulation.
NPR's Jeff Brady called it "a step toward more vigorously regulating climate-warming methane leaks from the oil and gas industry."
Speaking against the resolution, Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said, "We shouldn't demonize an industry that is part of the lifeblood of our economy." She called the vote a "political stunt" and echoed industry arguments that it's reducing methane emissions even as gas use increases.
But the oil and gas industry is split over this issue. Larger companies generally support the Obama-era rules, while smaller companies oppose them.
Big oil is heavily invested in natural gas and worries that if methane emissions aren't controlled, it could undermine arguments that gas is a cleaner-burning fossil fuel than coal.
"We cannot make the climate case for the widespread use of natural gas if we don't manage and contain it," says Shell U.S. President Gretchen Watkins in a statement to NPR. Other large oil companies expressed similar views on Twitter this month, including BP, Equinor and Total.
Smaller drillers worry stricter regulations will be expensive. They prefer voluntary measures to limit methane emissions.
"IPAA supports cost-effective methane emissions management under the Clean Air Act, but it believes that specific standards are needed for small businesses and low production wells," says Lee Fuller, executive vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. His group says some wells produce just a few barrels a day and could become unviable with stricter regulations.