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Flames from a flaring pit near a well in the Bakken Oil Field in North Dakota. Photo: Orjan F. Ellingvag/Corbis via Getty Images

ExxonMobil Corp., the world’s biggest publicly traded oil company, is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions of methane from all new and existing oil and gas wells across the country, according to a letter obtained by Axios.

The big picture: Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is the primary component of natural gas and is sometimes purposefully or inadvertently leaked in the production and transport of the fuel, as well as when drilling for oil. The EPA has been slow in its approach toward rolling back Obama-era methane rules, in part due to industry divisions.

Details: Through its subsidiary XTO Energy, Exxon is one of America’s biggest producers of natural gas. It has two reasons to back such a regulation.

  1. Exxon is facing pressure from investors and lawsuits over climate change. By calling for regulations, it’s an attempt to show Exxon wants gas to be as clean as possible, even if those regulations never happen. “We believe the correct mix of policies and reasonable regulations help reduce emissions, further supporting the benefits of natural gas in the energy mix,” writes Gantt Walton, vice president in Exxon’s Washington office, in the letter sent as part of the regulatory process.
  2. As a massive global company, Exxon is positioned to benefit financially over smaller companies. It can easily afford pollution-control equipment that others have a harder time obtaining.

Between the lines: This is a subtle escalation in Exxon’s positioning on this issue. The company has previously said it backs federal methane regulations, but — until now —had not gone as far as to ask the EPA to do so in writing.

  • It’s also significant that Exxon is asking the agency to regulate methane emissions from existing wells, which would affect hundreds of thousands of wells. Under Trump, the EPA is very unlikely to do this. President Obama’s EPA had started the initial groundwork for such a rule, but didn’t get far before Trump took over.

What’s next: This letter is in response to a technical rollback EPA is undertaking. The agency is expected to propose a broader rollback of the rules soon.

Go deeper

7 mins ago - Health

Moderna to file for FDA emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine

Photo illustration by STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Moderna announced that it plans to file with the FDA Monday for an emergency use authorization for its coronavirus vaccine, which the company said has an efficacy rate of 94.1%.

Why it matters: Moderna will become the second company to file for a vaccine EUA after Pfizer did the same earlier this month, potentially paving the way for the U.S. to have two COVID-19 vaccines in distribution by the end of the year. The company said its vaccine has a 100% efficacy rate against severe COVID cases.

The social media addiction bubble

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Right now, everyone from Senate leaders to the makers of Netflix's popular "Social Dilemma" is promoting the idea that Facebook is addictive.

Yes, but: Human beings have raised fears about the addictive nature of every new media technology since the 18th century brought us the novel, yet the species has always seemed to recover its balance once the initial infatuation wears off.

Young people's next big COVID test

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Young, healthy people will be at the back of the line for coronavirus vaccines, and they'll have to maintain their sense of urgency as they wait their turn — otherwise, vaccinations won't be as effective in bringing the pandemic to a close.

The big picture: "It’s great young people are anticipating the vaccine," said Jewel Mullen, associate dean for health equity at the University of Texas. But the prospect of that enthusiasm waning is "a cause for concern," she said.