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Producers praise industry emissions effort; environmentalists scorn it

The American Petroleum Institute and 26 major oil and gas companies have kicked off a voluntary program to reduce their industry's emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds, but environmental groups are clearly unimpressed.

API announced the program on Dec. 5 and said implementation will begin Jan. 1, 2018. The industry advocate said the 26 participating companies "produce a significant portion of American energy resources" and operate in virtually every major producing region.

The initiative has three main parts: a program to monitor selected sites for fugitive emissions using new detection methods and technologies, the removal or retrofitting of high-bleed pneumatic controllers with low- or zero-emitting devices, and the removal of liquids from natural gas wells that can restrict gas flow and increase emissions over time.

"This groundbreaking partnership further demonstrates the industry's leadership and commitment to responsibly developing America's energy resources while reducing emissions," said API President and CEO Jack Gerard. "U.S. methane emissions have fallen over the past decade as domestic natural gas and oil production has increased significantly due to the industry's technology innovation and efforts to increase efficiencies. The Environmental Partnership seeks to accelerate emissions reductions and we're headed in the right direction."

Exxon Mobil Corp. and its subsidiary XTO Energy Inc. are taking part in the API initiative, which XTO said builds on efforts the company already has in place.

"We are committed to responsibly managing methane emissions across our operations," XTO spokesman Jeremy Eikenberry said. "This methane emissions reduction effort builds upon efforts already underway at XTO Energy, through our recently announced voluntary methane emissions reduction program that includes the phase-out of high-bleed pneumatic devices, research on leak detection technologies and facility design improvements for new operations. This partnership demonstrates the oil and natural gas industry's commitment to taking meaningful action to reduce emissions across our operations."

BP Plc spokesman Brett Clanton said the company was pleased to join the partnership. He said increased use of natural gas will help meet emissions reduction goals.

"Today we face a dual challenge of shifting to a lower-carbon future while safely providing reliable energy to a growing world population. Natural gas — an abundant, affordable, lower-carbon energy source — can meet both those aims," he said. "At the same time, BP recognizes that controlling methane emissions is essential to maximizing the role of gas in a lower-carbon world. We remain focused on reducing methane emissions across our operations in the U.S. and around the world."

While oil and gas producers were happy to talk about the potential benefits of the API program, environmental groups were not buying it. In a statement, the Sierra Club said the only real way to ensure reductions in methane emissions is through federal standards. The group accused API of covering for the Trump administration while methane emissions regulations on federal and tribal lands are rolled back.

"This is nothing but a cynical ploy for public goodwill as API continues to work with Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt to undermine the effective, commonsense methane safeguards that are required by law," Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign Director Kelly Martin said. "This voluntary program falls far short of what is necessary to protect our communities and our climate from the dangers of methane pollution, and API knows it."