EPA to unveil oil, gas methane restrictions

EPA to unveil oil, gas methane restrictions
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The Obama administration is planning to unveil final regulations limiting methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector on Thursday, according to people familiar with the plans.

The sources said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is likely to closely follow last August's proposal for the regulation, which set standards to restrict methane leaks from numerous points in the oil and gas production process, including drilling and pumping.

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It’s a major piece of the administration’s goal to cut the  country’s methane pollution by 40 percent to 45 percent from 2012 levels.

“If we develop a meaningful expansion of our voluntary programs, we will see industry succeed, both in achieving its voluntary commitments and achieving its legal obligations, while continuing to thrive economically,” Joe Goffman, the EPA’s associate assistant administrator for air pollution, said recently about the rule.

“That’s the definition of success, as far as we’re concerned.”

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with up to 80 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide by volume, though it stays in the atmosphere for a much shorter period of time.

The regulation is part of President Obama’s pledge last year from the Paris climate agreement, where he said the United States would cut its greenhouse gas emissions 26–28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

The EPA expected last year’s proposal to cut 340,000 to 400,000 short tons of methane annually by 2025, the equivalent of 7.7 to 9.0 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide. 

But the rule coming out Thursday will only apply to newly drilled oil and gas wells. Responding to concerns from environmentalists and others, the EPA agreed earlier this year to start the regulatory process for a set of rules for existing wells.

The oil and gas industry is fighting the new regulations tooth and nail, complaining that they add unnecessary costs to their operations and that they are already dramatically reducing methane pollution without new regulations.

Methane is also the main component of natural gas, so capturing it has an economic benefit, though drillers say the cost of capturing it often exceeds the benefit.