Enlarge / In some cases, stray methane is burned to limit how much escapes into the atmosphere. (credit: Lawrence Berkeley Lab)
The Trump administration suffered a legal blow on Monday when the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled (PDF) that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must enforce methane emissions rules that were finalized by the Obama administration in mid-2016.
The rules established performance standards for new drilling operations, and they required many oil and gas companies to conduct an initial survey of methane leaks by June 3, 2017.

Changing finalized rules is often a lengthy and painstaking process, and Trump’s EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced his intention to start the reconsideration process for the rules in April. Pruitt, who sued the EPA as attorney general of Oklahoma over these rules, also announced a stay on the EPA’s enforcement of certain parts of the rules that could have lasted up to two years.
Specifically, Pruitt said the EPA would not, for the time being, enforce four items specified in the rules, including regulation of low-production wells and the requirement that a professional engineer certify well vent system designs.
Environmental groups—including the Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Integrity Project, Earthworks, the Clean Air Council, and the Sierra Club—challenged the EPA’s stay in court, however.

The EPA argued that the stay was reasonable because the previous administration hadn’t given all stakeholders due opportunity to comment on certain parts of the rules’ final wording.
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