The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed to regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas sector as part of its ongoing climate change initiatives, mandating a reduction of 40 to 45% from 2012 levels by 2025. The new rules, which would apply to new and modified sites, are expected to be proposed this summer and completed by 2016. At existing oil and gas operations, EPA would rely mostly on voluntary measures for reducing methane emissions.Since 2007, methane emissions fell by 35% from natural gas operations, while natural gas production increased by 22%. According to EPA, voluntary implementation of new technologies by the oil and natural gas industry is a major reason for the decline in emissions.
EPA has yet to determine many of the technical details behind its proposal to reduce methane emissions. The agency is planning to meet with stakeholders in the coming months before issuing a proposed methane rule this summer and a final rule next year.
President Obama’s Department of Interior is also proposing to reduce leaks of methane from new drilling equipment and from old and new production facilities on public lands. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management is planning to modify its standards for new and existing wells on public lands to reduce venting, flaring and leaks of natural gas, which is comprised mostly of methane, from oil and gas wells.
Many believe the new regulations are politically motivated in order to meet an administration commitment to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions that it announced in China last November and to spur a new climate agreement at the UN summit to be held later this year in Paris. Last November, the Administration unveiled a goal to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. To reduce methane emissions, oil and gas companies will have to install technology that prevents methane from being inadvertently leaked and to monitor their operations if leaks were to appear. According to industry executives and EPA, many companies are already using that equipment voluntarily, because they do not want to waste an otherwise valuable product – natural gas.
Methane emissions have accounted for about 9% of the greenhouse gases emitted in the US; while carbon dioxide emissions have accounted for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions (82%). Of the 9% of greenhouse gas emissions that methane constitutes, only about 3% is subject to the proposed EPA regulations, of which EPA wants to reduce about half. If the US was to eliminate all carbon dioxide emissions now and forever, the amount of global warming that would be saved according to computer models, would be just 0.10°C by the end of the century. So, reducing 1.5% of greenhouse gas emissions would produce just 0.002°C of temperature savings. Thus, the new EPA regulations would only avert two-thousandths of a degree of warming.
As natural gas producers want to limit losses of natural gas, they have developed new technologies to prevent leakage from drilling, transportation and processing. Thus, many believe that the newly proposed methane regulations from the EPA are unnecessary.
Adapted from press release by Rosalie Starling