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BP has lobbied intensively to weaken US rules on methane emissions even as the energy group cast itself as leading a campaign to cut the release of the potent greenhouse gas.

The UK-listed group has portrayed itself as an energy major at the forefront of a global campaign to reduce methane emissions from operations to combat climate change. 

Bernard Looney, BP’s head of exploration and production, will on Wednesday speak at a major industry conference in Houston on a panel titled “Methane emissions: Getting to zero”.

However, documents collated by Unearthed, an arm of Greenpeace, and verified by the Financial Times, show a pattern of behaviour related to US methane regulation that jars with BP’s calls to cut emissions, and which critics contend will contribute to higher levels of pollution in the future.

“There has been a disconnect between BP’s global methane positioning and its posture on US methane regulations,” said Ben Ratner at the Environmental Defense Fund.

By fighting regulation of methane emissions directly and through influential trade groups, the public documents show BP lobbied the Trump administration as part of an effort to roll back Obama era environmental rules.

BP played a role in successfully fighting to unwind two rules from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Land Management. Climate activists say this will lead to higher emissions from the industry.

The energy major argued that some of the rules were too “costly” and “labour-intensive”. 

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Methane is the principal component of natural gas. It can be released into the atmosphere during production, from incomplete flaring — burning of excess gas — as well as leaks from pipelines. Methane breaks down faster than carbon dioxide but is a bigger contributor to global warming.

BP last year said it was “committed to taking a leading role” in addressing methane emissions, announcing a target to limit these gases from operations to 0.2 per cent of total production.

In October 2015, BP and other energy majors pledged to “strengthen” collective action to reduce emissions. By that time the Obama administration had already announced plans to reduce carbon emissions from cars and power stations, as well as methane gases from oil and gas facilities.

But by December 2015, BP America’s head of regulatory affairs, Robert Stout, was writing to the EPA to argue that a proposed rule requiring more frequent equipment inspections to detect methane leaks would “be very costly and labour-intensive”.

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“The proposed rule would now mandate the testing of literally tens of thousands of well components,” he said. BP instead argued for the “rapid development” of more efficient technologies. But it acknowledged this could take years.

Trade groups supported by BP were more aggressive. The American Petroleum Institute said directly regulating methane was “unlawful”. The Texas Oil & Gas Association requested that the EPA reconsider the rule.

BP, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil were among companies that sent representatives to API’s meetings with government agencies on methane policy, and several other majors as well as BP proposed their own changes to the methane rules.

Separately, BP sought to stall the BLM proposal to regulate the venting and flaring of methane from operations on federally-owned lands.

While BP is one of the better companies for methane emissions globally, it ranks among the worst for flaring intensity, according to data analysed by climate disclosure group CDP.

The EPA rule sought to prevent air pollution — including methane emissions — and applies to facilities nationwide that were newly developed or modified after 2015.

The EPA projected that its regulation would reduce methane emissions by between 300,000 and 510,000 tonnes annually by 2025, while BLM estimated its rule would reduce wasteful venting and leaking methane emissions by 35 per cent and wasteful flaring by 49 per cent.

Mr Stout said in a 2016 letter to the BLM, that methane “management” had to be done in the “most cost-effective manner” and suggested the bureau “hold off promulgating additional methane regulations”.

The EPA and BLM rules were finalised in 2016, but BP revived its opposition once President Trump entered the White House.

In March 2017 Mr Stout told the commerce department that if a move to overturn the BLM methane rule failed, then it should be “reconsidered or revoked” by the Trump administration, arguing it “created a complex web of regulations”.

In 2017 BP lobbied congressional representatives to revoke the BLM methane rule using a legislative tool that kills the reform and stops future regulations that they believe are “substantially the same”.

That same year, BP and its European peers committed to further reducing methane emissions from their natural gas assets and “advocate for sound methane policies and regulations”.

Last year the Trump administration effectively reversed the BLM rule as part of a series of efforts to pare back federal obligations on business.

Ultimately the BP-backed API was also successful in changing the EPA’s position to cut the number of inspections from twice a year to only once.

In response to a request for comment on its lobbying, BP said it supported US federal regulation of methane but it believed rules should eliminate overlap between government agencies and state authorities and should factor in future technologies to aid detection. 

“We have consistently advocated for regulation of methane emissions by one federal agency — the Environmental Protection Agency — rather than an inefficient patchwork of different federal or state agencies,” said a BP spokesperson.

“Duplicative methane regulations by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management should be repealed and the EPA regulations should be kept in place but improved,” he added, saying BP supported “well-designed” regulations alongside voluntary efforts to address methane.

Tom Udall, the Democratic senator for energy-rich New Mexico, called on majors such as BP to oppose the Trump administration’s reversals. “Silence from many big oil and gas companies is both deafening and enabling,” he said.

Additional reporting by Kiran Stacey in Washington

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