The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed Tuesday dramatic cuts to methane gas emissions from the country’s oil and gas industry, part of a broader White House push to address climate change. The regulations, the first ever of their kind, play a key role in the Obama administration’s goal of cutting overall methane emissions by 40 to 45% over the next decade from 2012 levels.
The proposed rule will directly lead to a 20 to 30% reduction in methane emissions from the energy industry, Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said on a conference call for journalists. The EPA did not specify how the U.S. plans to make the further methane cuts needed to reach Obama’s 40 to 45% goal.
Methane, the key component of natural gas, is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted by human activity, and pound for pound, has more than 25 times greater an effect on climate change than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. (Over the long term, the differences between the two gases narrow, because CO2 remains in the atmosphere much longer than methane.) Leaks from the oil and natural gas industry make up nearly 30% of methane emissions in the United States, with the rest coming from agriculture and landfills, among other sources.
In recent years, the rapid increase in hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, has fed concern over methane emissions. Oil and gas producers emit methane gas as a byproduct in the fracking process, as well as through leaky pikes and other faults in the energy supply chain. A number of recent studies have suggested that the oil and gas industry releases more methane into the environment than previously recognized, four times as much by some accounts. Natural gas gathering and processing facilities leak about 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas annually, according to a study released Tuesday.
The EPA announcement calls for new standards at fracking wells, natural gas processing sites and other spots subject to leaks.
“Today, through our cost-effective proposed standards, we are underscoring our commitment to reducing the pollution fueling climate change and protecting public health while supporting responsible energy development, transparency and accountability,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a statement.