"EESI has long called for action addressing methane leakages, and today we are delighted that EPA has released its new rules to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector," says Carol Werner, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute's (EESI) executive director. "You could say methane is carbon dioxide's smaller, rowdier sibling. It is a major contributor to climate change—at least 86 times more powerful as a climate-warming pollutant than carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. Tackling methane leakages will have an immediate impact on our greenhouse gas emissions, and help us keep global warming below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), the goal set by the Paris climate agreement."
According to Werner, "Reducing methane leakages is even more important now that more and more natural gas is being used and is replacing coal as our largest source of electricity. The next, urgent step needs to be limiting methane emissions from existing sources in the fossil fuel industries. The Administration is working on such rules, and we encourage their release as soon as possible."
On May 12, the Environmental Protection Agency released its final rules to reduce dangerous methane leakages from new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry. The new standards should prevent 510,000 short tons of methane emissions in 2025 (that is the equivalent of 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, or taking 2.3 million cars off the road). The new rules should save Americans $690 million in 2025 by reducing methane and toxic pollution (that is 30 percent more than the $530 million the rules will cost to implement in 2025).
The oil and gas industry is the single largest source of methane emissions in the United States, representing about 33 percent of all methane emissions in the country. These emissions are the result of serious leakages throughout the entire oil and gas production and pipeline distribution infrastructure. The Obama Administration is seeking to reduce emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. The new rules set standards for production, processing, and transmission facilities that are being built, as well as facilities being upgraded or otherwise modified.
Methane (CH4), the primary component of natural gas, is a short-lived climate pollutant; such gases have a major impact on the atmosphere but have often been overlooked. Methane has an atmospheric lifetime of 12 years, but packs a powerful punch during that time. Methane's greenhouse gas effect is 86 times that of carbon dioxide, when adjusted to a 20-year period for standardization purposes. It is estimated to have caused a quarter of the 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit of global warming that has taken place since 1900. Because of methane's potency, reducing methane emissions quickly can substantially reduce the rate of warming in the near term.
Methane leakages aren’t only bad for the climate. Methane pollution from the oil and gas industry reacts in the air to form ozone, more commonly known as smog. Smog triggers asthma attacks in children, increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and can cause premature death. Toxic gases released alongside methane, such as benzene, are known carcinogens; plugging methane leaks would prevent these other gases from escaping. And reducing leakages will lead to safer operations: methane is particularly flammable and can cause explosions.
Fugitive methane is economically wasteful. The oil and gas industry accidentally releases 9 million metric tons of methane pollution every year, a $1.5 billion loss. The knowledge and knowhow needed to reduce methane leakages is well known and available: technology equipment upgrades and field practices can knock off 40 percent of methane emissions at a cost of only 1 cent per thousand cubic feet, or a mere 0.02% of the industrial price of natural gas (which is $3.5 per thousand cubic feet). Unfortunately, many in the industry have preferred to invest first and foremost in capacity, making government action necessary to level the playing field and ensure all industry players take the necessary steps to curtail their methane emissions.
Still needed are rules limiting methane emissions from existing oil and gas industry sources (as opposed to new and modified sources), as well as other sources of methane (such as landfills and industrial processes).
For more information:
- EPA's Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources in the Oil and Natural Gas Sector