Breath of Clarity

Discussion Comment: Methane Emissions

Original Post by Steffen Williams:

Methane emissions account for roughly 25% of human-driven climate change (Marusic 2020). The gas has a wide variety of sources ranging from oil and gas wells to cattle farming. Roughly 40% of U.S. methane emissions come from the fossil fuels industry and around two thirds of that can be attributed to leaks during production and transportation of natural gas (Webb 2020). In 2016, the EPA adopted several measures under the Clean Air Act to improve regulation of methane emissions. First, the EPA instituted new source performance standards (NSPS) for both the oil and gas industry and landfills requiring the use of certain technologies to be used before new sites could be created or existing sites could be modified (Webb 2020). The EPA also issued a request for information to the oil and gas industry aimed at gathering data on methane emissions in order to develop emissions guidelines for existing facilities (Webb 2020). The Obama administration’s Bureau of Land Management also instituted rules targeting methane emissions. The BLM’s Methane Waste Prevention Rule established new targets requiring 95-98% of methane gasses produced from oil wells to be captured and imposed leak detection and repair requirements to apply to all new and existing facilities on public lands (Webb 2020).

When the Trump administration took office in early 2017, they immediately took initial steps to dismantle these methane rules. By 2018, the BLM had rescinded its Methane Waste Prevention rule, and as of the time of this post, the EPA is still reviewing its NSPS for methane, but most experts expect them to either rescind or weaken these rules substantially. The EPA administrator recalled its request for information from the fossil fuel industry, indicating the EPA will likely no longer look to regulate existing sources of methane emissions (Webb 2020).

Ironically, some of the nation’s largest oil and gas companies have spoken out against the proposed rule changes. Spokespeople for Exxon, BP, and Shell all expressed a desire to keep the Obama era rules in place. Some industry analysts expect the support for the stricter regulations is based on the idea that natural gas is a cleaner and less greenhouse gas intense option than most fossil fuels. Consequently, the industry is seen as relatively climate friendly and a key stepping stone on the way to a carbon neutral economy (Nuccitelli 2019). Increasing the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by loosening standards could disrupt this notion amongst the public and place closer scrutiny on the industry’s comprehensive environmental record.

Legal challenges to the Trump administration’s about face on methane have already been initiated. Several U.S. states have challenged the recall of the BLM’s methane rule, and despite the EPA’s best efforts to stay its methane rules pending review, successful legal challenges have allowed those rules to remain in place until the EPA issues a final decision (Webb 2020). The litigation process is likely to drag on long enough that the ultimate fate of these methane rules may lay with the administration in office in 2021 (Nuccitelli 2019).


Environmental Protection Agency. 2019. “Oil and Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources Review.” Accessed April 29, 2020. to an external site.

Friedman, Lisa and Coral Davenport. 2019. “Curbs on Methane, Potent Greenhouse Gas, to be Relaxed in U.S.” The New York Times. Accessed April 29, 2020. to an external site.

Marusic, Kristina. 2020. “Oil and gas methane emissions in US are at least 15% higher than we thought.” Environmental and Health News. Accessed April 29, 2020. to an external site.

Nuccitelli, Dana. 2019. “Key facts about the new EPA plan to reverse the Obama-era methane leaks rule.” Yale Climate Connections. Accessed May 19, 2020. to an external site.

Webb, Romany M. 2020. “The Status of Methane Regulation in the U.S.” Columbia Law School. Accessed May 19, 2020.


Thanks for sharing methane emissions contribute about 25% of human-driven climate change. Since the Industrial Revolution, methane levels doubled (What’s Your Impact, 2020). The class thoroughly outlined the issue in terms of the fossil fuel industry contributing 40% of the human-created damage from methane emissions. So, I decided to investigate the other 60%.

Livestock farming is a significant issue. The problem specifically stems from enteric fermentation in ruminant animals (What’s Your Impact, 2020). A ruminant animal has a complicated digestive system requiring one to chew partly digested food a second time in a different compartment of the body. The by-product is methane which is either released via flatus or simply exhaled by the animal (What’s Your Impact, 2020). Nowadays, there are protein supplements which make livestock raising non-essential to preserving human health. However, it is very ambitious to envision a world without any meat consumption. Nonetheless, the livestock raising practices at the large-scale corporate level operations are particularly detrimental.

Further, large-scale livestock farming involves managing the manure with large waste treatment systems and holding tanks. In itself, landfills are the third-leading contributor to human-driven methane emissions. As new material is stacked atop a large pile, the original load gets trapped in conditions where there is no oxygen. The action creates similar conditions to the digestion compartments of ruminant animals where there is no oxygen. Breaking down the waste without oxygen produces large amounts of methane emissions. After the landfill is covered, “bacteria continues to decompose the buried waste which will emit methane for years” (What’s Your Impact, 2020). Understanding how livestock farming and landfills also impact global climate change led me to investigate policy changes, aside from the fossil fuel sector, that are related to methane emissions.

The Trump administration officially withdrew the Farmer Fair Practices Rules and Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rules. The administration’s actions support overproduction of livestock by large corporations which increase methane emissions. The first protection would have blocked companies from requiring contracted farmers to make expensive and unnecessary upgrades to their operations. The requirement to upgrade keeps struggling farmers drowning in debt. With this decision, the Trump Administration is enabling multinational meatpackers, not helping America’s small-scale ranchers such as poultry grower Mike Weaver who said, “the administration is allowing corporations to hold America’s farmers and ranchers hostage with their monopolistic, retaliatory and predatory practices” (Farm Aid 2018). Supporting small-scale farming operations brings less likelihood of over-raising and a greater attention to having environmentally sound waste disposal techniques. Experimenting with biodynamic land care strategy and composting is more so happening at the small-scale farm level, as well.

Stopping implementation of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rules is a disgrace to the 14 years of policy work, including input from small-scale farmers, aimed to tighten animal welfare standards for organic livestock production. The rules would have established clear requirements for transporting and raising animals (Farm Aid 2018). The Trump administration’s impact damaged the integrity of the organic label and market, which represents a tremendous opportunity for family farmers and sustainable agriculture. Rather, environmentally sound regulations could “create a more level playing field for family farmers, reward them for production practices that are positive for the livestock, and help them distinguish their high-quality products in the marketplace” (Farm Aid 2018). I don’t agree with the change in policy because it brings difficulty to small-scale farmers who are attempting innovative practices and already offer a better quality meat source for the American people to consume.


Farm Aid. 2018. “One Year In: The Trump Administration on Farm Policy.” Accessed May 24 2020.

What’s Your Impact. 2020. “Main Sources of Methane Emissions.” Accessed May 24 2020. emissions#footnote1_eqdha1h