More than 3,000 oil and gas corporations have been given the green light to overlook regulations protecting the environment during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an investigation by the Associated Press. 

The investigation found that since March, the Trump administration has been approached by hundreds of oil and gas industry members to request leniency on anti-pollution regulations, claiming the pandemic has made it difficult to follow them.  

This means that the Trump administration has given out numerous approvals that allow “less environmental monitoring at some Texas refineries and at an army depot dismantling warheads armed with nerve gas in Kentucky, manure piling up and the mass disposal of livestock carcasses at farms in Iowa and Minnesota, and other risks to communities as governments eased enforcement over smokestacks, medical waste shipments, sewage plants, oilfields and chemical plants,” according to the AP. 

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About two weeks ago, the Environmental Protection Agency also formally revoked rules that require American oil and gas drillers to detect and fix leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas that experts say heats the planet far faster than carbon dioxide. This step reverses the 2016 decision by former American president Barack Obama that invoked strict regulation on methane leaks. 

In comparison to last year in March, AP states that data looking at enforcement of environmental regulations reveals that 40% fewer tests of smokestacks were conducted this year. It is unclear why fewer tests were done but, as US remains the second largest polluter in the world following China, the American oil and gas industry has seen profits collapse from the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Climate experts warn of consequences 

“Increasing evidence shows the importance of methane as a greenhouse gas, and some 25 percent of the global warming over the past few decades has been due to methane,” said Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University and a faculty fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for Sustainability. 

“Unfortunately, methane emissions are increasing rapidly, and the oil and gas industry is clearly part of the problem. My research concluded that shale gas development in North America alone has been responsible for one third of the total increase in global methane emissions over the past year. Given this context, the decision by the Trump administration to rescind regulations on methane emissions is dangerously reckless.” 

Experts go on to warn that even if the world’s governments were somehow able to meet the targets of the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, which Trump pulled out of when he was elected, the unaccounted methane gas leaks can undo the progress made so far by the 2015 global agreement. 

Fakiha Baig