EPA moves toward possible methane emission rules

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a series of technical white papers Tuesday about sources of methane emissions, asking the public to comment on the research to inform EPA’s efforts to reduce emissions of methane, which is the main component of natural gas.

The five papers each explore one place that methane may be released into the atmosphere: natural gas compressors, hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — for oil drilling, leaks during natural gas production, removing liquids in gas wells and pneumatic devices used in the gas industry.

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“The white papers will help EPA solidify our understanding of certain sources of methane and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions in the oil and natural gas industry,” the agency said in a statement. “Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and VOCs contribute to the formation of harmful ground-level ozone (smog).”

Each paper presents data on how the methane leaks happen and the volume of the emissions, as well as techniques that could reduce the output.

The Tuesday release follows the March unveiling of the Obama administration’s overall strategy to reduce methane emissions as part of President Obama’s efforts to reduce climate change. Methane is far more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

EPA has not committed to writing new regulations to curb methane emissions, but Obama called on the agency to research what might be necessary.

The Environmental Defense Fund welcomed Tuesday’s action as a step toward reducing emissions.

“The release of these EPA white papers is as another important step in the Obama administration’s road map to address methane pollution,” EDF attorney Peter Zalzal said in a statement. “The case for action is strong and we’re confident it will prove out in the end.”

EDF released research in March concluding that existing, cost-effective technology could reduce 40 percent of the methane emissions from onshore oil and gas operations.

EPA is accepting comments on the white papers until June 10.