The Obama Administration’s Plan To Reduce Methane Emissions

Methane is a greenhouse gas with a warming potential 23 times greater than carbon dioxide. Methane emissions in the U.S., which contribute to climate change, increased three percent in 2013 over 2012, according to data released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA.

The oil and gas industry is responsible for many methane emissions through leaks. Methane leaks are polluting and expensive, costing the oil and gas industry almost $2 billion a year. Capturing and reusing methane gas saves money and provides a significant revenue stream. In January, the White House released a plan to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. Just recently, the Administration has announced proposed rules for the oil and gas industry. 

The proposed rules build on the foundation laid by the International Energy Agency (IEA), recommendations calling on public authorities to consider “imposing restrictions on venting and flaring and specific requirements for installing equipment to help minimize emissions.” They come at a timely moment. U.S. oil production is at its highest level in almost 30 years; the U.S. is currently the world’s largest producer of natural gas. 

In 2012, methane emissions accounted for almost 10 percent of U.S. GHG emissions, and almost 30 percent of that came from the production, transmission, and distribution of oil and natural gas. Although emissions from the oil and natural gas sector have decreased 16 percent since 1990, they are projected to increase by over 25 percent by 2025 if the needed regulations are not put in place. 

The proposed rule is based on the 2012 standards issued by the EPA on volatile organic compounds (VOC) from the oil and natural gas industry. When fully implemented, the standards would reduce VOCs by 190,000 to 290,000 tons, equivalent to 33 million tons of carbon pollution a year. The proposed methane rule, issued this summer, are for methane emissions at new and modified oil and gas production sources, and natural gas processing and transmission sources. A final rule will be issued in 2016. 

In addition to the proposed EPA rules, other actions taken by the Obama administration involve several federal agencies, including the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This spring, the BLM updated its decades-old standards to reduce venting, flaring and leaks of natural gas, which is mainly methane, from oil and gas wells. 

The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) will propose natural gas pipeline safety standards this year. Although the standards will be focused on safety, they are expected to decrease methane emissions. 

The President’s budget for fiscal year 2016 will include $15 million in funding for the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop and demonstrate more cost-effective strategies to detect and reduce losses from natural gas transmission and distribution systems. The budget will also include $10 million to launch a new DOE program for enhancing the quantification of methane emissions from the natural gas sector to include in the national Greenhouse Gas Inventory. 

Photo: Steven Jenkins