White House Announces Steps to Curb Methane Emissions

Guest Blog | January 15, 2015 | Climate Change

Yesterday, the White House announced its first-ever efforts aimed at reducing methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industries.  President Obama announced his latest step in his Administration’s effort to combat climate change that will come in the form of a proposed rule under the Clean Air Act in mid-2015.  Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted from human activity and has a warming effect more than 20 times greater than carbon dioxide.

Historically, and humorlessly, cows and other grazing livestock have been a significant source of methane emissions, including from massive agriculture waste (manure) lagoons.  As the U.S. increases its natural gas production, however, more and more methane is being emitted from the oil and gas industry.  Natural gas is composed primarily of methane, so even small methane leaks can pose a large problem for the climate.  As part of his overall Climate Action Plan, President Obama and the EPA are now working on limiting methane emissions from these industries by 40 – 45% from 2012 levels part of a larger effort to reduce our nation’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

With the release of proposed emission standards for carbon dioxide from new and existing power plants, methane is one of the last major greenhouse gas from the power industry yet to be regulated.  As hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” for natural gas continues to expand across the country, many have become concerned about the amount of methane leakage into the air and the water from fracking sites.  (Click here for a video explanation of fracking: Fracking Explained).  Although burning natural gas emits about half as much carbon as burning coal for power, methane emissions from the oil and gas sector are expected to rise more than 25% by 2025.  Industry claims newer drilling techniques could reduce methane leakage at natural gas fracking sites.

According to a White House fact sheet, methane accounted for 10% of GHGs in 2012.  At least 30% of that methane came from the production transmission and distribution of oil and natural gas.  By reducing the amount of methane emissions from natural gas production, the new rule purports to save up to 180 billion cubic feet of natural gas by 2025, which is enough to heat more than 2 million homes for a year.

The new, proposed methane emissions standards will aim to reduce methane emissions by 40 – 45% from 2012 levels by 2025 and would apply only to new or modified sources.  The existing network of oil and natural gas pipelines will only be subject to voluntary programs like EPA’s Gas STAR Gold Program.  EPA is expected to issue a proposed rule in the summer of 2015 with a final rule to follow in 2016.

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