The EPA’s Methane Emissions Reduction Plan

Carbon dioxide gets all attention, but it is not the only greenhouse gas. Methane is a greenhouse gas with a warming potential of around 86 times carbon and the second-largest contributor to climate change after carbon. A sound climate change policy includes reducing methane emissions.

Enter the Biden administration, which has a plan for methane emissions reduction. In November 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its first draft for new regulations to reduce methane and deal with associated pollution from new and existing oil and gas operations. The new regulations would reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, including existing sources.

Legislation’s impact on methane emissions reduction

According to EPA estimates, the proposed rule’s impact on oil and natural gas prices from 2023 to 2035 is only pennies per barrel of oil or thousand cubic feet of gas. The proposed rule would prevent 41 million tons of methane emissions from entering the atmosphere from 2023 to 2035. That is more than the amount of carbon emitted from all U.S. passenger cars and commercial aircraft in 2019. In 2030, the rule would reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas sources by 74 percent compared to 2005.

“With this historic action, EPA is addressing existing sources from the oil and natural gas industry nationwide, in addition to updating rules for new sources, to ensure robust and lasting cuts in pollution across the country,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “By building on existing technologies and encouraging innovative new solutions, we are committed to a durable final rule that is anchored in science and the law, that protects communities living near oil and natural gas facilities, and that advances our nation’s climate goals under the Paris Agreement.”

The EPA is requesting information on other methane sources for the federal agency to develop another regulation to reduce emissions further. The EPA is also developing a community monitoring program to detect and report significant emission events. Last year, President Biden signed a congressional measure into law that reinstated Obama-era rules to reduce methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry. 

Methane Emissions Continue to Increase

A third of the warming from greenhouse gases that occurs today comes from human-caused emissions. The largest source of methane emissions in the U.S. is the oil and natural gas industry, which emits more methane than all of the greenhouse gas emissions from 164 countries combined. 

The oil and natural gas industry emitted 13 million metric tons of methane annually from 2012 to 2018, research from the Environmental Defense Fund showed. EPA research only showed eight million metric tons. According to the International Energy Agency, the concentration of methane in the atmosphere is around two-and-a-half times greater than pre-industrial levels and steadily increases.  

A 2021 paper published in the journal Environmental Research Letters shows that fast and full-scale efforts to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, agriculture, and other human sources could slow the global warming rate by as much as 30 percent. 

Image credit: FracTracker Alliance, courtesy Flickr

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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