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By Zebedee Nicholls and Tim Baxter
Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Methane is a shorter-lived greenhouse gas - why do we average it out over 100 years? By doing so, do we risk emitting so much in the upcoming decades that we reach climate tipping points?<p>The climate conversation is often dominated by talk of carbon dioxide, and rightly so. <a href="https://www.livescience.com/58203-how-carbon-dioxide-is-warming-earth.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon dioxide</a> is the climate warming agent with the biggest overall impact on the heating of the planet.</p><p>But it is not the only greenhouse gas driving climate change.</p>
Comparing Apples and Oranges<p>For the benefit of policy makers, the climate science community set up several ways to compare gases to aid with implementing, monitoring and verifying emissions reduction policies.</p><p>In almost all cases, these rely on a calculated common currency - a carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO₂-e). The most common way to determine this is by assessing the global warming potential (<a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/understanding-global-warming-potentials" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">GWP</a>) of the gas over time.</p><p>The simple intent of GWP calculations is to compare the climate heating effect of each greenhouse gas to that created by an equivalent amount (by mass) of carbon dioxide.</p><p>In this way, emissions of one gas - like methane - can be compared with emissions of any other - like carbon dioxide, nitrous dioxide or any of the myriad other greenhouse gases.</p><p><span></span>These comparisons are imperfect but the point of GWP is to provide a defensible way to compare apples and oranges.</p>
Limits of Metrics<p>Unlike carbon dioxide, which is relatively stable and by definition has a GWP value of one, methane is a live-fast, die-young greenhouse gas.</p><p>Methane traps very large quantities of heat in the first decade after it is released in to the atmosphere, but quickly breaks down.</p><p>After a decade, most emitted methane has reacted with ozone to form carbon dioxide and water. This carbon dioxide continues to heat the climate for hundreds or even thousands of years.</p><p>Emitting methane will always be worse than emitting the same quantity of carbon dioxide, no matter the time scale.</p><p>How much worse depends on the time period used to average out its effects. The most commonly used averaging period is 100 years, but this is not the only choice, and it is not wrong to choose another.</p><p>As a starting point, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/anthropogenic-and-natural-radiative-forcing/" title="IPCC AR5 Ch. 8" target="_blank">Fifth Assessment Report</a> from 2013 says methane heats the climate by 28 times more than carbon dioxide when averaged over 100 years and 84 times more when averaged over 20 years.</p>
Many Sources of Methane<p>On top of these base rates of warming, there are other important considerations.</p><p>Fully considered using the 100-year GWP and including natural feedbacks, the IPCC's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/anthropogenic-and-natural-radiative-forcing/" title="IPCC AR5 Ch. 8" target="_blank">report</a> says fossil sources of methane - most of the gas burned for electricity or heat for industry and houses - can be up to 36 times worse than carbon dioxide. Methane from other sources - such as livestock and waste - can be up to 34 times worse.</p><p>While <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GL079826" title="Understanding Rapid Adjustments to Diverse Forcing Agents" target="_blank">some uncertainty remains</a>, a <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/2016GL071930" title="Radiative forcing of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide: A significant revision of the methane radiative forcing" target="_blank">well-regarded recent assessment</a> suggested an upwards revision of fossil and other methane sources, that would increase their GWP values to around 40 and 38 times worse than carbon dioxide respectively.</p><p>These works will be assessed in the IPCC's upcoming <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/assessment-report/ar6/" target="_blank">Sixth Assessment Report</a>, with the physical science contribution due in 2021.</p><p>While we should prefer the most up to date science at any given time, the choice to consider - or not - the full impact of methane and the choice to consider its impact over 20, 100 or 500 years is ultimately political, not scientific.</p><p>Undervaluing or misrepresenting the impact of methane presents a clear risk for policy makers. It is vital they pay attention to the advice of scientists and bodies such as the IPCC.</p><p>Undervaluing methane's impact in this way is not a risk for climate modellers because they rely on more direct assessments of the impact of gases than GWP.</p>
Tipping Points<p>The idea of climate tipping points is that, at some point, we may change the climate so much that it crosses an irreversible threshold.</p><p>At such a tipping point, the world would continue to heat well beyond our capability to limit the harm.</p><p>There are <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/115/33/8252" title="Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene" target="_blank">many tipping points</a> we should be aware of. But exactly where these are - and precisely what the implications of crossing one would be - is uncertain.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Ray Levy-Uyeda
A farmer for most of his life, Sam Stewart bought farmland in Montana about 35 years ago. Since then, he's planted and harvested his wheat and other crops around 16 open oil wells on this land, which he estimates were dug in the 1920s.
Abandoned Wells<p>The first oil wells in Montana were drilled at the turn of the century, and the industry <a href="https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6881&context=etd" target="_blank">experienced its first boom</a> in the 1920s. <a href="https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6881&context=etd" target="_blank">Energy demands of World War II</a> spurred a second boom; between 1942 and 1945, <a href="https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6881&context=etd" target="_blank">oil production in the Elk Basin region</a> increased from 16,000 to 940,000 barrels annually. When those wells no longer produced oil, companies could just leave. The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission of Montana, tasked with identifying and plugging abandoned wells, wasn't created until 1954, and by that time an untold number of wells had already been drilled, produced, and abandoned. </p><p>As more companies moved into Montana, oil and gas production grew into an increasingly important part of local and state economies; by 2015, it<a href="https://montanapetroleum.org/about-us/economic-impact/" target="_blank"> made up 5.6%</a> of the state's general fund. But the industry that once was a cornerstone of Montana's economy is now in a nosedive: a yearslong decline in global oil production and demand compounded by the <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063049965" target="_blank">pandemic-induced economic slowdown</a> has produced some of the worst oil <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-07/oil-companies-warn-kansas-city-fed-of-widespread-insolvencies" target="_blank">production conditions in recent years</a>.</p><p>In 2016, the most recent year for which he was able to provide data, 4,713 oil and gas wells were in operation in the state and 204 had been abandoned, according to Allen Olson, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association, a trade organization that works on behalf of the businesses. But that's a <a href="https://montanapetroleum.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/MPA-Booklet.pdf" target="_blank">fraction of the tens of thousands</a> that have been drilled in Montana in the past century. </p><p>Data on abandoned wells remain incomplete, which further complicates cleanup efforts. Plus, state legislatures have drastically different policies on how to address abandoned wells. One thing remains certain: The issue is enormous and far-reaching. A 2018 report from the <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-06/documents/6.22.17_ghgi_stakeholder_workshop_2018_ghgi_revision_-_abandoned_wells.pdf" target="_blank">Environmental Protection Agency </a>estimated that the country has 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells. </p><p>Abandoned wells in Montana—left by companies that filed for bankruptcy, for example, default to the state. Theoretically, a state-run fund pays for well adoption and closure, but even under state control, the wells often lay unplugged, because plugging abandoned wells and restoring the surface land is expensive. Olson believes that the "state regulatory agency here is doing an excellent job staying on top" of plugging wells. But the <a href="http://www.mtrules.org/gateway/ruleno.asp?RN=36%2E22%2E1308" target="_blank">state's plugging plan</a> doesn't explicitly address the issue of abandoned oil wells, and also neglects to lay out a time-bound plan for plugging wells. </p><p>It's not just that states like Montana don't have a legislative apparatus to hold corporations accountable, says Mitch Jones, the climate and energy program director at Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit that pushes for corporate and government accountability. He says that the lack of governmental action is by design. When wells are abandoned, Jones says, "the costs of doing business are passed on to the public instead of being paid by the shareholders in the industry."</p>
A Boost or a Burden?<p>Kirk Panasuk, a lifelong Montanan, farmer, and member of the Northern Plains Resource Council's Oil and Gas Task Force, remembers growing up with oil wells on his grandparents' farm. Panasuk says "once you've leased the land you've lost control." An oil company would lease the mineral rights—not the surface land but the profitable oil below. That lease might expire, the company would leave, and another company would come in to start the process again.</p><p>Agriculture is a difficult industry, and Panasuk says what seems like "free money" at the outset can lead to problems down the road. Water systems are connected, which means that an oil leak in Montana has the potential to leach chemicals into bodies of water such as the Yellowstone River that flows into other states through the Missouri River, a <a href="https://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/" target="_blank">river crucial</a> to municipal, industrial, and agricultural function. </p><p>Panasuk now volunteers with the NPRC to lobby state legislators on practices that would hold resource extraction companies accountable by mandating water testing and treatment. He admits that he's made money off of these companies by leasing mineral rights to oil producers who then sell the oil at market. Despite the environmental fallout, Panasuk believes that oil companies' leasing of land actually "saved a lot of small farms from failure [and] bankruptcy."</p><p>Olson of the Montana Petroleum Association says that in 2019, when oil was $60 per barrel, a company might produce 100 barrels per day and pay a royalty fee of 12.5%, which could garner a farmer $750 per day for leasing their land. Today, with prices and production down, the payoffs look different. In April, oil prices went into the <a href="https://billingsgazette.com/news/local/oil-price-collapse-hits-billings-area-businesses-hard/article_df10e954-3e0c-5b6c-9641-135208d4ad2c.html" target="_blank">negative</a>, and in August, they're <a href="https://www.oilmonster.com/crude-oil-prices/central-montana-price/159/228" target="_blank">hovering around $30 per barrel</a>. </p><p>While an oil lease might benefit a farmer initially, Jones says that oil companies are well-versed in this practice. "The oil and gas industry takes advantage of the inequities in our agriculture system to prey upon farmers and get them to sign leases for drilling on their land," Jones says, which can "undermine agricultural activity that's taking place."</p><p>In other farming communities around the country, where oil and gas companies produce natural gas through <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/poor-communities-bear-greatest-burden-from-fracking/" target="_blank">hydraulic fracturing</a>, farmers and members of the local community often bear the brunt of water pollution. Not to mention that farming is dependent on a predictable and healthy climate, which is being threatened by resource extraction. </p>
A Foundation Is Formed<p>In early 2019, Curtis Shuck was in the northern town of Shelby, about 15 miles south of the Canadian border, meeting with farmers about agricultural transportation. More than three decades in the oil and gas industry hadn't prepared him for what he saw—abandoned, methane-leaking, unplugged oil wells.</p><p>He walked the area with the farmers and learned how they worked around the wells, most of which had stopped producing oil decades earlier. What was left were remnant pipes strewn across the fields and a sulfuric stench like rotten eggs. </p><p>On his journey home to Bozeman, Shuck couldn't stop thinking about what he had seen, knowing that each open well was responsible for tons of emissions. On that drive, the idea for the Well Done Foundation was born. </p><p>Just over a year after that first trip north, the Well Done Foundation plugged its first three wells and expanded beyond the Montana pilot program into dozens of other states. Shuck says that he hopes the foundation can also gather the concrete data that the government lacks, such as the number of orphaned wells and their emissions, which makes it difficult to develop solutions.</p><p>Shuck says he can acknowledge the state's shortcomings in their cleanup efforts while building relationships with those who make regulatory decisions. The "state fund is grossly underfunded," Shuck says, but "why should the public bear the burden of this orphaned well issue?"</p><p>The Well Done team identifies abandoned oil wells around the state, and then posts a financial bond to the state's Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, a way for the state to track and partially fund the plugging. In doing so, the state is holding up its end of the bargain, but without this push from Well Done, it might take the state years to accomplish what the Foundation does in months. </p><p>The foundation researches individual well emissions for about nine months as well as studying the construction of a well, how deep it goes, and the materials that are required to plug it. Shuck says it's important that the foundation does its due diligence to identify wells that have collapsed in on themselves or have an obstruction that needs to be addressed before plugging. </p><p>Then the foundation works with county commissions, private entities, and those who own the surface land to develop and execute a "plugging plan," which so far has been funded by private or anonymous donors. The actual plugging of the well takes only a few days, and then the Foundation works to restore the surface land to its "pre-drilling condition," which allows a farmer to seed the land and grow crops. </p>
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In the coming days, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to use its power to roll back yet another Obama-era environmental protection meant to curb air pollution and slow the climate crisis.
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'Resounding' Win for Public Health and Climate as Judge Blocks Trump Attempt to Gut Methane Restrictions
Leonid Eremeychuk / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Jake Johnson
Green groups celebrated a "resounding victory for taxpayers, public health, and the environment" late Wednesday after a federal judge blocked the Trump administration from rolling back an Obama-era rule designed to limit planet-warming methane emissions.
Fracking companies are going bankrupt at a rapid pace, often with taxpayer-funded bonuses for executives, leaving harm for communities, taxpayers, and workers, the New York Time reports.
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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By Emma Charlton
Gluts of food left to rot as a consequence of coronavirus aren't just wasteful – they're also likely to damage the environment.
Methane on the Rise<p>Not only is this a tragic waste of food at a time when many are going hungry, it is also an <a href="https://donatedontdump.net/2014/07/07/the-effects-of-food-waste-on-the-environment-by-junemy-pantig/" target="_blank">environmental hazard</a> and could contribute to global warming. Landfill gas – <a href="https://www.epa.gov/lmop/basic-information-about-landfill-gas" target="_blank">roughly half methane and half carbon dioxide (CO2)</a> – is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material.</p>
Food decay leads to production of greenhouse gases, methane and carbon dioxide. EPA<p>Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 28 to <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full.pdf" target="_blank">36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat</a> in the atmosphere over a 100-year period, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.</p><p>"Many export-oriented producers produce volumes far too large for output to be absorbed in local markets, and thus <a href="https://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=2333" target="_blank">organic waste levels have mounted substantially</a>," says Robert Hamwey, Economic Affairs Officer at UN agency UNCTAD. "Because this waste is left to decay, levels of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas, from decaying produce are expected to rise sharply in the crisis and immediate post-crisis months."</p>
Food supply chains are easily disrupted. UN FAO<p>Dumping food was already a problem before the crisis. In America alone, <a href="https://www.refed.com/?sort=economic-value-per-ton" target="_blank">$218 billion is spent growing, processing, transporting</a> and disposing of food that is never eaten, estimates ReFED, a collection of business, non-profit and government leaders committed to reducing food waste. That's equivalent to around 1.3% of GDP.</p><p>Since the pandemic took hold, <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-52267943" target="_blank">farmers are dumping 14 million liters</a> of milk each day because of disrupted supply routes, estimates Dairy Farmers of America. A chicken processor was forced to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/11/business/coronavirus-destroying-food.html" target="_blank">destroy 750,000 unhatched eggs a week</a>, according to the New York Times, which also cited an onion farmer letting most of his harvest decompose because he couldn't distribute or store them.</p>
Food Prices Collapsing<p>The excess has also seen prices collapse. The <a href="http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/foodpricesindex/en/" target="_blank">FAO Food Price Index</a> (FFPI) averaged 162.5 points in May 2020, down 3.1 points from April and reaching the lowest monthly average since December 2018. The gauge has dropped for four consecutive months, and the latest decline reflects falling values of all the food commodities – dairy, meat, cereal, vegetable – except sugar, which rose for the first time in three months.</p><p>All this while the pandemic is exacerbating other global food trends.</p><p>"This year, some 49 million extra people may fall into extreme poverty due to the COVID-19 crisis," said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN. "The number of people who are acutely food or nutrition insecure will rapidly expand. <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGhLKAbNDiY&feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">Even in countries with abundant food, we see risks of disruptions in the food supply chain</a>."</p>
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By Mark Kaufman
Some fires won't die.
They survive underground during the winter and then reemerge the following spring, as documented in places like Alaska. They're called "overwintering," "holdover," or "zombie" fires, and they may have now awoken in the Arctic Circle — a fast-warming region that experienced unprecedented fires in 2019. The European Union's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service is now watching these fires, via satellite.
<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.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.yB-jOVJDGUG2KvIAwskuRZUTW3jlMjjlCTI8DcG3tAI/img.jpg" id="d48aa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="79880bae7db4253c569739c541d26709" />Zombie fires could be awakening in the Arctic
<div id="48215" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4e094a6eb3039925709e345158051f4b"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1258045476731002882" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Are these 'zombie' fires? As the snow melted in Arctic Siberia last week, a number of fires have been detected by s… https://t.co/MBZbBYqA2o</div> — Dr Thomas Smith 🔥🌏 (@Dr Thomas Smith 🔥🌏)<a href="https://twitter.com/DrTELS/statuses/1258045476731002882">1588776389.0</a></blockquote></div>
So What Happens Now?<p>In the future, fire researchers expect an uptick in zombie fires. That's because the <a is="" href="https://mashable.com/article/climate-change-business-as-usual-catastrophic/" target="_blank">planet is relentlessly warming</a>, particularly in the Arctic, which means more ready-to-burn vegetation. It's already happening. "Arctic fires<strong> </strong>are becoming more common overall," explained Miami University's McCarty.</p><p is="">And some of these fires will inevitably smolder all winter, under the snow. "With a warmer Arctic, we're more likely to see overwintering fires," noted Smith.</p><p is="">It's challenging to stop zombie fires. They can happen in extremely remote places, without any roads or means of dousing them before they erupt. "We have no way of fighting them," said McCarty. "They're often fairly far-removed. How are we going to put them out?"</p><p is="">It's a question of profound importance in the decades ahead. Preventing human-caused Arctic wildfires will be critical, emphasized McCarty. That's because Arctic fires aren't just burning trees, they're often burning through <a is="" href="https://blogs.agu.org/geospace/2019/12/06/peatlands-release-more-methane-when-disturbed-by-roads/" target="_blank">peatlands</a>, which release bounties of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas methane into the air. When it comes to trapping heat, methane is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases" target="_blank">25 times more potent</a> than carbon dioxide over the course of a century.</p><p is="">It's a vicious cycle. The warming Arctic produces more fires. More fires burn more forests and peatlands. This releases more methane and carbon dioxide into the air. This contributes to ever more planetary heating.</p><p is="">"Not stopping these zombie fires means further degrading these Arctic ecosystems," said McCarty. "Further warming leads to more zombie fires. It's not great."</p><a target="_blank"></a><blockquote><a href="https://mashable.com/article/zombie-fires-arctic/#" target="_blank"></a></blockquote>
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Trump Administration Reversed Existing Methane Regulations<p>Methane emissions have become <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2019/08/14/fracking-shale-gas-drilling-methane-spike-howarth" target="_blank">a much bigger issue</a> in the last decade since the <span style="background-color: initial;">U.S.</span> boom in shale <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/oil-and-gas">oil and gas</a> produced by <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/fracking" rel="noopener noreferrer">fracking</a>. Despite <a href="https://money.cnn.com/2016/07/21/investing/trump-energy-plan-obama-oil-boom/index.html" target="_blank">overseeing a huge rise in oil and gas production</a>, the Obama administration acknowledged the methane problem and <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/05/12/administration-takes-historic-action-reduce-methane-emission-oil-and-gas-sector" target="_blank">proposed and adopted new methane emissions regulations</a>, which the <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2019/09/10/key-facts-trump-epa-plan-obama-methane-leaks-rule" target="_blank">Trump administration has since repealed</a>.</p><p>The Trump administration has staffed regulatory agencies with former industry executives and lobbyists who have been quite successful at rolling back environmental, health, and safety rules.</p><p>Last August former coal lobbyist and current administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/andrew-wheeler" target="_blank">Andrew Wheeler</a> <a href="https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-proposes-updates-air-regulations-oil-and-gas-remove-redundant-requirements-and-1" target="_blank">explained the reasoning</a> for removing the Obama methane rules.</p><p>"EPA's proposal delivers on President Trump's executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry," Wheeler said. "The Trump administration recognizes that methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimize leaks and maximize its use."</p><p>The problem with this free-market assumption is that Wheeler is wrong about the industry's financial incentive to limit methane emissions.</p>
Even the Remaining Regulations Are Controlled by Industry<p>While the Trump administration has rolled back many regulations for the oil and gas industry, the regulatory system in the U.S. was already designed to protect industry profits — not the public or environment. When the federal government creates regulations, the process can be heavily influenced by industry lobbyists, and if they don't agree with the regulations, there are many ways they can get them revised to favor their companies.</p><p>While Exxon <a href="https://www.axios.com/exxon-epa-regulate-methane-emissions-oil-gas--0befdde6-e0fe-49db-a200-38299853b43d.html" target="_blank">did publicly say </a>in 2018 that it didn't support repealing the existing methane regulations, the company also wrote to the <span style="background-color: initial;">EPA</span> voicing support for certain aspects of the <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/american-petroleum-institute" target="_blank">American Petroleum Institute's</a> (<span style="background-color: initial;">API</span>) comments on the issue, and the <span style="background-color: initial;">API</span> <a href="https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2019/08/oil-gas-lobby-split-by-trump-rollback-of-methane-rules/" target="_blank">approved removing the regulations.</a> In that letter Exxon used the same language it is now using with its propsed regulations, saying any rules need to be "cost-effective" and "reasonable." But if the regulations are cost-effective, will they actually be effective in reducing methane emissions in a meaningful way?</p>
Excerpt from Exxon letter to EPA about methane regulations. ExxonMobil<p><a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/when-safety-rules-on-oil-drilling-were-changed-some-staff-objected-those-notes-were-cut-11582731559" target="_blank">The Wall Street Journal</a> recently highlighted the influence that the oil and gas industry and its major U.S. trade group the American Petroleum Institute can have over regulations. After the deadly 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the federal government put into place new safeguards known as the "well control rule" in order to prevent another disaster during deepwater offshore drilling.</p><p>In 2019, the Trump administration revised the rule, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/05/03/720008093/trump-administration-moves-to-roll-back-offshore-drilling-safety-regulations" target="_blank">weakening it</a>, even though, as the Journal reported, federal regulatory staff did not agree "that an industry-crafted protocol for managing well pressure was sufficient in all situations, the records show." The staff was ignored. (And the move is <a href="https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/suit-filed-over-well-control-rule-repeal" target="_blank">undergoing a legal challenge</a>.)</p><p>Industry crafted protocol. Just the thing Exxon is now proposing.</p><p>This type of industry control over the regulatory process was also brought to light after two Boeing 737 MAX planes crashed and killed 346 people. Boeing had fought to make sure that pilots weren't required to undergo expensive and lengthy training to navigate the new plane.</p><p><a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-boeing-737max/designed-by-clowns-boeing-employees-ridicule-737-max-regulators-in-internal-messages-idUSKBN1Z902N" target="_blank">Reuters reported </a>on internal communications at Boeing which revealed the airplane maker simply would not let simulator training be required by regulators:</p><p>"I want to stress the importance of holding firm that there will not be any type of simulator training required to transition from NG to MAX," Boeing's 737 chief technical pilot said in a March 2017 email.</p><p>"Boeing will not allow that to happen. We'll go face to face with any regulator who tries to make that a requirement."</p><p>Boeing got its way. And 346 people died.</p>
Exxon Touts 'Sound Science' Despite Its History<p>Exxon's methane proposal states that any regulations should be based on "sound science." This statement is coming from a company whose scientists <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/content/Exxon-The-Road-Not-Taken" target="_blank">accurately predicted the impacts of burning fossil fuels</a> on the climate decades ago and yet has spent the time since then <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/09/03/study-finds-exxon-misled-public-withholding-climate-knowledge" target="_blank">misleading the public</a> about that science.</p><p>The current regulatory system in America does not protect the public interest. Letting Exxon take the lead in the place of regulators doesn't seem like it's going to help.</p><p>Megan Milliken Biven is a former federal analyst for the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the federal agency that regulates the oil industry's offshore activity. Milliken Biven explained to DeSmog what she saw as the root cause of the regulatory process's failure.<br><br>"Regulatory capture isn't really the problem," Milliken Biven said. "The system was designed to work for industry so regulatory capture isn't even required."</p>
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