EPA proposes new rules to cut methane emissions

Natural gas infrastructure
CC BY 2.0 John S. Quarterman

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new rules to cut methane emissions. It's a step towards a larger federal goal of reducing emissions from that greenhouse gas by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels over the next ten years. The proposed rules are expected to cut U.S. methane emission by 20 to 30 percent.

The new rules target new and modified oil and gas production sources, but not all existing natural gas operations.

“Today, through our cost-effective proposed standards, we are underscoring our commitment to reducing the pollution fueling climate change and protecting public health while supporting responsible energy development, transparency and accountability," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a press statement.

According to the EPA, methane is a particularly big contributor to climate change, as it has 28 to 36 more global warming potential than carbon dioxide emissions. The oil and gas sector is one of the biggest sources of methane emissions in the county.

The rules particularly target gas leaks, which owners and operators would be required to find and repair.

The oil and gas industry is opposing the rules. “The oil and gas industry is leading the charge in reducing methane,” said Jack Gerard, the president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. “The last thing we need is more duplicative and costly regulation that could increase the cost of energy for Americans.” Industry members say that they already have enough financial incentives to prevent leakage.

The announcement coincides with a new study that suggests the EPA may be underestimating methane leaks by as much as 25 percent.

The methane rules are part of the Obama administration’s larger push to fight climate change, including the recently finalized rules to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. However, today’s announcement comes on the heels of giving Shell the final go-ahead to begin deep-sea drilling for oil in the Arctic, making for another example of the administration’s give-and-take approach to environmental issues.

Environmental advocates seem tentatively positive about this effort to reduce methane emissions. "Reducing emissions from new oil and gas operations is an important first step," said Meleah Geertsma, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The largest source of this pollution, however, is the oil and gas infrastructure that already exists across the country. That must be addressed next."

The proposed methane rules will be open to a period of public comment, with the aim of finalizing the rules in 2016.

EPA proposes new rules to cut methane emissions
The proposed rules are expected to cut U.S. methane emission by 20 to 30 percent.

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