The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Oil Industry Profits Trump the Climate

Sep 2, 2019

On August 29, the Trump administration announced plans to end the requirement that oil and gas companies track and fix methane leaks from their operations.

Methane is the second most important “greenhouse gas” contributing to climate change, after carbon dioxide. While human activity releases much less methane into the atmosphere, methane has 80 times the heat trapping power of carbon dioxide over a twenty-year period. And a large share of the methane released in the U.S. comes from the oil and gas industry. The rollback of this rule threatens to increase the emission of methane, and the warming of the planet.

In fact, this rule change was backed only by the smaller oil and natural gas producers. For them, putting in the necessary machinery can be a big expense. But for the industry as a whole, the cost is tiny – the Trump EPA estimates that this rollback will save the oil and natural gas industries about 17 to 19 million dollars a year – or about one one-hundredth of one percent of oil industry income in the U.S. alone.

The big oil companies, including Exxon- Mobil, Shell, and BP, actually oppose Trump’s rollback and favor limited methane regulation. This is because they are trying to sell natural gas – the essential component of which is methane – as a “green” energy source. They fear that Trump’s rollback will undercut their attempts to “green-wash” their product.

Because of its low cost, natural gas has been replacing coal for the production of electricity in the U.S. for years, to the point that it is now the largest electricity source in the country. Burning natural gas produces about half as much carbon dioxide as coal, but it’s not an answer to global warming. According to a 2012 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, if the U.S. continues to switch its electricity production largely from coal to natural gas, carbon emissions from electricity production in the U.S. will barely change at all – from 2,036 million metric tons in 2012, to 1,972 by 2050. And on top of that, even with the old regulations in place, natural gas production and distribution still leaks a significant amount of methane.

So even if these regulations are restored – either by the courts or by the next Democratic administration – they will only serve to help the big oil companies retain control over U.S. energy production, and continue to emit gases that will heat up the planet!

The climate already appears to be at a crisis point, with the hottest June and July on record, enormous melting in the Arctic, floods in many places and drying out of farmland in others, bigger storms, and a rising sea level.

In any rational society, we would collectively decide how to change our production of energy to limit the effects of this looming catastrophe, starting right now. But under capitalism, humanity’s future is held hostage to the competing interests of different oil companies.