Obama moves on methane emissions

The Obama administration unveiled the first regulations targeting methane emissions from industrial sources on Wednesday, seeking to add to the president's legacy on climate change.

The administration is setting a new goal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 45 percent by 2025 from 2012 levels, which is sure to be met with hostility from Republicans and the industry.

{monads}The new rules will target oil and gas wells, and improve drilling equipment to reduce venting and flaring, helping the administration achieve the goal.


Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is 25 times more harmful to the planet than carbon dioxide. In 2012, methane emissions accounted for roughly 10 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions, which are said to contribute significantly to global warming.

The administration noted in a fact sheet that, while the U.S. is now the "largest natural gas producer in the world" and the president considers it a "critical element" of the nation's energy strategy, "methane is a potent greenhouse gas."

One piece of the administration's new actions includes regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency that target methane emissions from new and modified oil and gas wells. The proposal will be issued this summer and finalized in 2016.

Natural gas production has increased over 50 percent since 2005, but methane emissions from the sector have fallen roughly 15 percent over that same time period through 2012, EPA data states.

But "without additional action, emissions are projected to rise 25 percent," said Dan Utech, an adviser to Obama on energy and climate issues.

Utech added that the administration would not "have sharp estimates of costs and benefits until we are a little down the track."


Under the administration's proposal to reduce emissions, the Interior Department will also release a new rule aimed at updating standards to reduce venting, flaring and leaks from new and existing oil and gas wells on public lands.

The rule will be issued by the Bureau of Land Management this spring.  

Additionally, the Department of Transportation will look at slashing methane leaks when issuing new pipeline safety standards, and the president’s 2016 budget request will include $15 million for the Energy Department to advance research on cost-effective technology that detects leaks.

The DOE will also issue energy efficiency standards for natural gas air compressors.

While the actions from the EPA and Interior Department alone won't reach the full 45 percent cut in methane emissions the administration is aiming to reach, the White House said voluntary actions from industry will also help with reductions.

EPA Air and Radiation Office chief Janet McCabe told reporters on a call Wednesday that the new rule is focusing on an area that "makes the most sense" right now.

While the administration’s move is sure to be met with some cheers from the environmental community, which has pushed the White House for months to take aim at methane directly, the actions do not target existing wells.

Green groups argue that existing wells and infrastructure make up 90 percent of the industry’s emissions. 

Utech stressed that, while existing wells were not a central focus of Wednesday’s actions, it is “clear” that inside the overarching goal of cutting emissions 45 percent the administration knows “we need to get reductions from existing sources.”

It’s an additional step that will inflame the industry.

Shortly after the administration announced its new plan on Wednesday, the nation’s top oil lobby responded, calling the rules “unnecessary.” 

“Another layer of burdensome requirements could actually slow down industry progress to reduce methane emissions,” said American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard.

Gerard added that new regulations could "threaten" the U.S. oil and gas boom and the nation's "role as a global energy superpower."

— This post was updated at 9:31 a.m.