Both the scientific understanding of the role that methane plays in driving climate change and the position of the oil and gas industry have shifted since Mr. Obama’s administration first sought to regulate methane pollution. Scientists now see the gas as playing a greater role in the rapid warming of the planet than previously understood, while some major oil and gas companies that fought methane regulations a decade ago now say they welcome — or at least can work with — the return of the methane rules.
Most of Mr. Biden’s proposed climate change policies are designed to reduce carbon dioxide, which is produced by burning fossil fuels and is the most abundant and damaging greenhouse gas.
Methane, which is a close second, is mainly emitted from leaks in oil and gas drilling sites. It lingers in the atmosphere for a shorter period of time than carbon dioxide, but packs a bigger punch while it lasts. By some estimates, methane has 80 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide in its first 20 years in the atmosphere.
A new United Nations report, compiled by an international team of scientists and scheduled to be published next month, is expected to declare that reducing emissions of methane, the main component of natural gas, will need to play a far more vital role in warding off the worst effects of climate change.
The report, a detailed summary of which was viewed by The New York Times, also says that unless there is significant deployment of unproven technologies capable of pulling greenhouse gases out of the air, expanding the use of natural gas is incompatible with keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal of the international Paris Agreement.
Many major oil and gas companies have come out in support of methane regulations: Exxon, Shell and BP had actually urged the Trump administration to keep the Obama methane rules in place. Those companies have invested millions of dollars to promote natural gas as a cleaner fuel than coal in the nation’s power plants, because natural gas produces about half as much carbon dioxide when burned. They fear that unrestricted leaks of methane could undermine that marketing message and hurt demand.
On Wednesday, Vicki Hollub, the chief executive of Occidental Petroleum, an international oil company based in Houston, told a Senate panel that she supported the vote to reinstate the methane regulations.