How Rollbacks at Scott Pruitt’s E.P.A. Are a Boon to Oil and Gas


Devon Energy’s Beaver Creek gas plant outside Riverton, Wyo. The company was prepared to install sophisticated equipment to reduce emissions of hazardous air pollution. Since Scott Pruitt assumed the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency, the company has pulled back from its proposals. Credit Ryan Dorgan for The New York Times

FREMONT COUNTY, Wyo. — In a gas field here in Wyoming’s struggling energy corridor, nearly 2,000 miles from Washington, the Trump administration’s regulatory reversal is crowning an early champion.

Devon Energy, which runs the windswept site, had been prepared to install a sophisticated system to detect and reduce leaks of dangerous gases. It had also discussed paying a six-figure penalty to settle claims by the Obama administration that it was illegally emitting 80 tons each year of hazardous chemicals, like benzene, a known carcinogen.

But something changed in February just five days after Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general with close ties to Devon, was sworn in as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Devon’s pushback, coming amid an effort to ease a broad array of federal environmental rules, is the first known example under the Trump administration of an accused polluter — which has admitted violating the law — backing away from a proposed environmental settlement. It is already being hailed by other independent energy companies as a template for the future.

The E.P.A. has not yet made a public response to Devon’s new posture, and Mr. Pruitt declined to comment for this article. But the new approach follows a series of important victories for the energy industry in Washington that could reshape environmental policy on a national scale and undermine the Obama administration’s campaign to combat climate change.

In just the last three months, with Mr. Pruitt in charge, the E.P.A. postponed a long-planned rule requiring companies like Devon to retrofit drilling equipment to prevent leaks of methane gas — a major contributor to climate change — and to collect more data on how much of the gas is spewing into the air.

”Devon is doing to the oil and gas industry what Donald Trump did to the Republican Party, pushing the whole agenda into a world of extremes,” said Mark Brownstein, a vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund.

The rollbacks cap a carefully coordinated campaign over the last eight years led in part by Devon, which is based in Oklahoma City and is the nation’s eighth-largest natural gas producer, and Mr. Pruitt, who served six years as Oklahoma attorney general before Mr. Trump named him E.P.A. chief.

Devon and Mr. Pruitt, while he was still attorney general out West, teamed up to block new federal rules imposed by the Obama administration that required fossil fuel companies to more closely monitor oil and gas wells for leaks, and disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracking. Devon also poured millions of dollars a year into lobbying — and hundreds of thousands into campaign contributions to Mr. Pruitt and other Republicans — as it pushed regulators and lawmakers in Washington to do away with the restrictions.

Read the complete article on the New York Times web site.

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