Methane: A Dangerous Problem, An Easy Solution

Navajo Community leader Daniel Tso has watched as oil and gas operations have encroached more and more on his community’s tribal lands.
Navajo Community leader Daniel Tso has watched as oil and gas operations have encroached more and more on his community’s tribal lands.
Steven St. John for Earthjustice

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, trapping 86 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

In fact, nearly 20% of the planet’s warming can be attributed to methane.

And, because it’s often paired with other toxic pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde, and ethylbenzene, the release of methane into the air can cause debilitating health problems for the millions of people who live near oil and gas operations.

Each year, fossil fuel companies leak or deliberately vent 13 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere during oil and gas operations, which, according to a new study, is 60% more than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated.

Oil, gas, and coal production are the largest industrial sources of methane emissions.

An Easy Solution to the Methane Problem

Proven, low-cost solutions exist to cut this dangerous and wasteful pollution.

The Obama administration, in 2016, enacted the first nationwide requirements for the oil and gas industry to reduce methane emissions from its operations.

These standards came after years of legal advocacy by Earthjustice. They were projected to reduce the equivalent of 11 million metric tons of carbon pollution by 2025 and save Americans a net of $170 million in costs related to methane pollution.

But the Trump administration did everything it could to allow fossil fuel companies to continue releasing harmful methane emissions into our air.

The Trump EPA gutted methane pollution standards in 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, further jeopardizing public health. The Trump administration also tried to gut the Bureau of Land Management’s Waste Prevention Rule, which protects the public from wasteful venting, flaring, and leaking of gas from drilling operations on federal and tribal lands.

Earthjustice represented tribal and conservation citizen groups in a lawsuit against the rollback — and won.

On Nov. 11, 2022, the EPA announced stronger standards to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

These represent a significant step toward reining in harmful pollution, including methane and other hazardous air pollutants, from fossil fuel production. Reducing this pollution will help combat the climate crisis and protect public health for those communities most impacted by oil and gas facilities. Earthjustice will continue to advocate for the strongest possible methane standards.

In 2021, Congress passed a Congressional Review Act resolution to undo Trump’s rollbacks and restore Obama-era methane protections.

Earthjustice will continue to partner with communities on the frontlines of methane pollution, who view these government safeguards as vital tools in their fight for the very air they breathe.

Established in 1989, Earthjustice's Policy & Legislation team works with champions in Congress to craft legislation that supports and extends our legal gains.