Oil executives have been secretly recorded sharing their real views on climate change, contradicting their public claims that methane emissions, which scientists say leads to global warming, are under control.
In June 2019 Ron Ness, the president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, spoke at a discussion by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, a group that represents energy companies, where he rebelled against the need to increase methane regulation.
'We’re just flaring a tremendous amount of gas. This pesky natural gas. The value of it is very minimal,' he admitted in the recording at the gathering in Colorado Springs.
He called stronger methane regulation 'an unnecessary burden', claiming the industry already produced 'valuable energy resources in a responsible manner', according to a New York Times report.
His comments came at a time when the public worried oil producers intentionally flared or burned off too much methane, which contributes to climate change.
Oil wells produce oil and natural gas, but oil commands high prices and producers use flaring as a cheap way to get rid of the gas.
Ness said there’s so much natural gas some producers drill primarily for oil and have little use for the gas that comes with it.
But the dramatic flares have been heavily criticized in the public eye and they are a 'huge, huge threat' to the industry’s effort to portray natural gas as cleaner and climate friendly, Ness said.
The recording runs one hour and 22 minutes where industry heads covered threats posed by solar and wind energy and the federal leasing of oil and gas rights.
The audio was provided by an organization dedicated to tracking climate policy that said the recording had made by an industry official who attended the meeting. The group declined to be named for fear of retribution.
Three people heard in the recording including moderator Ryan Ullman of the Independent Petroleum Association said it reflected their comments.
The oil industry has presented itself as part of a solution to climate change and that natural gas is a 'bridge fuel' to help the way move away from coal and towards renewable energy.
But natural gas when burned emits half the planet-warming greenhouses gases that coal, the world's dirtiest energy source, does.
Flaring off natural gas, rather than capturing it for use, creates pollution without creating usable energy.
Drilling for gas can also cause leaks of methane into the atmosphere and it can escape through faulty flares. Companies are also known to at times deliberately release gas from wells and pipelines in an act known as venting.
But this is dangerous as methane can trap more than 80 times more heat in the earth's atmosphere than carbon dioxide over the short term.
A coalition of oil and gas companies have pushed the Trump administration to undo Obama’s proposed regulations on their production, including having them install technology to detect and fix methane leaks from wells, pipelines, and storage facilities.
Lawyer James D. Elliott representing the coalition led by the Independent Petroleum Association said in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency in November 2019: 'The oil and natural gas industry has a pure economic incentive to prevent every molecule of “pollutant” from escaping to the atmosphere.'
The Trump administration has proposed to eliminate federal methane rules, a moves that sparks controversy over who has the authority to regulate methane as a pollutant – the White House or the EPA.
At that same Colorado meeting executives worried about potential backlash against the oil and gas industry especially among young voters as more people grow passionate about climate change.
'Young voters, female voters, Hispanic voters, really every sector except for older conservative male voters, their No. 1 issue when it comes to our industry is always going to be environmental stewardship, and concerns about what we’re doing with the environment,' Ryan Flynn of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association said in the meeting recording.
Dan Haley, the president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said: 'Hippies were going to change the world, until they wanted to get a job and buy a BMW.'
'In Colorado, we’ve been kind of playing a game of whack-a-mole. We went from where fracking was the dirty word, and contaminated your water. And we inundated them with information about that and blitzed the TV airwaves. Then slowly that changed into a health and safety messaging. And so we’re ramping up our health and safety messaging,' he added.
He argued that the industry needs to get to the public by hitting their emotions.
'The activists are doing this when they talk about banning fracking in Colorado. They don’t show explosions. They don’t show rigs. They show women and children,' he said.
'We have got to begin playing at that same emotional level or we will not win these battles,' he added.
Flynn said to the Times that in those statements he was expressing public concerns about the oil and gas industry’s effect on the environment and the need to better address those issues.
'We absolutely need to address young people’s, all people’s, concerns about climate change. We’ve taken criticism at times from our peers that we are engaging on these issues. But it’s critical for the future of our industry,' he said.
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