Obama, EPA to announce new rules for methane in oil and gas industry

The Anacortes Oil Refinery in Washington. (Photo: Wikipedia)
The Anacortes Oil Refinery in Washington. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Publish date: August 18, 2015

Written by: Charles Digges

The Obama Administration will today propose first of a kind regulations to reduce emissions from the oil and gas industry of methane, a greenhouse gas that’s cited as far worse than carbon dioxide.

The new Environmental Protection Agency rules signal a continuation of Obama’s plan for tackling climate change across the nation’s energy sectors ahead of a pivotal UN climate summit in Paris this December. The aim of the summit is to commit every nation to enact policies to cut greenhouse gases.

The United States has already submitted a plan to the United Nations laying out how it will cut domestic greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

The EPA’s proposal will call for cutting methane emissions from oil and gas wells and pipeline and processing infrastructure, US media have said.

The methane announcement, expected to come late US time on Tuesday, would propose a 40 to 45 percent cut of the methane emissions, compared to 2012 levels, from oil and gas industries by 2025, the Wall Street Journal reported.

obama-crowd US President Barack Obama. (Photo: White House)

“At the direction of President Obama, the EPA is proposing a flexible approach to reducing emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane and smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to combat climate change and reduce air pollution that harms public health,” the agency’s news release ahead of the official announcement stated.

While methane is less abundant in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide – accounting for less than 10 percent of total US greenhouse gas emissions – it is dozens of times more potent as a greenhouse gas, meaning that relatively small amounts of methane can have an immediate and powerful impact on climate change.

Faulty oil and gas equipment and leaky systems emit more than 8 million metric tons of unburned methane each year, the climate equivalent of running 180 coal-fired power plants, the EPA says.

“Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide (CO2), but CH4 is more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 on climate change is 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period,” said the EPA.

Industry and environmental groups widely expected the rules, which EPA officials said they have been working on since January.

The new methane rules are expected to accelerate the US transition away from carbon-intensive coal-fired power and toward natural gas and renewable energy sources, including solar and wind power.

But some environmental groups in the US, who have been studying the proposal since January, don’t think the new proposal will be enough.

The new rules are expected to initially target only new or modified gas and oil facilities, which is only 10 percent of the facilities currently in use. That leaves the other 90 percent of facilities pretty much untouched by federal regulations, media reports have said.

methane diagram EPA Petroleum and natural gas systems are the US's largest sources of methane emissions. (Diagram: US EPA)

The methane proposal has also drawn criticism from environmental groups, who offered only tepid praise for the plan when the EPA first announced it earlier this year. The Experts have said it will be extremely difficult to reach the EPA’s 45 percent emissions reduction target without requiring cuts from existing facilities.

The EPA also announced new rules Friday that would tighten emission standards and other air pollutants from landfills, The Blaze reported. It estimated these new rules –also part of Obama’s Climate Action Plan – would reduce methane from decomposing household waste by about 480,000 tons a year by 2025.

Landfills rank as the third-largest human-related source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming at 25 times the rate of an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. Landfills also emit toxic gases like benzene, toluene and vinyl chloride.

EPA said implementing the new standards for landfills would cost about $55 million over the next decade, said The Blaze.

Bellona will continue to follow developments.