US steps forward on plan to reduce methane emissions

President Obama will use his executive authority to impose new regulations on the oil and gas industry’s methane emissions under the Clean Air Act. The plan, which exemplifies the Obama Administration’s commitment to addressing climate change, is to cut emissions from oil and gas production by up to 45% by 2025, based on 2012 levels. This is an important step in the goal of cutting net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2015.

New methane regulations will be issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in order to avoid having to push the legislation through the Republican-controlled congress. Proposed regulations will come out this summer, and final regulations will be issued in 2016. They will build on the Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions, released in March 2014.

The United States is currently the largest oil and natural gas producer in the world. Methane, the key constituent of natural gas, leaks from oil and gas wells. It is the third largest source of GHG emissions in the US, accounting for 9% of the nation’s emissions. The global warming potential of methane is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide, so even small amounts can have a large impact on climate change.

New regulations will address methane leaks from wells, pipelines, and valves, throughout the entire drilling, production, and transportation process. Without intervention, it is projected that methane emissions could increase by 25% over the next decade, as the oil and gas industry is rapidly growing.

While the costs of methane emission reductions are currently unknown, a proposed $25 million USD in funding will help the Department of Energy to develop cost-effective technology to detect and reduce methane leaks in natural gas production. Voluntary efforts to reduce emissions are also encouraged.
The new EPA regulations will furthermore address volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from the oil and gas sector. VOCs are a key component of ground-level ozone, or smog.


(Image: Map showing natural gas emissions across the city of Boston, from the study Phillips, N.G., et al., Mapping urban pipeline leaks: Methane leaks across Boston, Environmental Pollution, 2012)