The US Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday proposed regulations to curb methane emissions from the country’s oil and natural-gas industry, setting up the next step in President Obama’s climate change strategy.
The EPA called for methane from the sector to be cut by 40-45% below 2012 levels by 2025, a target in line with plans announced by the agency earlier this year.
“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.
“Cleaner-burning energy sources like natural gas are key compliance options for our Clean Power Plan and we are committed to ensuring safe and responsible production that supports a robust clean energy economy.”
Methane is the second most prevalent GHG emitted in the US from human activities, and nearly 30% of it comes from oil production and the production, transmission and distribution of natural gas, the EPA said in a release.
The rules make up another component of Obama’s crusade to cut the GHGs being emitted by everything from power plants to aviation to road transportation, and they come weeks after the EPA released its final rules under its Clean Power Plan, which at 32% below 2005 levels by 2030 represented a deeper-than-anticipated target.
The methane standards will also help the US meet its target of cutting its overall emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, as pledged to the UN earlier this year.
“The proposed standards for new and modified sources are expected to reduce 340,000 to 400,000 short tons of methane in 2025, the equivalent of reducing 7.7 to 9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. EPA estimates the rule will yield net climate benefits of $120 to $150 million in 2025,” the agency added.
The US oil and gas industry is enjoying a renaissance mainly due to fracking and other enhanced oil recovery techniques, leading to predictions of an increase in methane from gas flaring and other activities, emissions that are more than 20 times as potent as CO2.
Some companies have voluntarily started to capture the methane from their operations, as it can be used to produce energy or increase operational efficiency.
As a result, methane output from the oil and gas sector has dropped by more than 10% over the past decade, according to the EPA.
However, the agency forecasts that these levels will rise by 25% over the next 10 years without being reined in.
The proposed rules will now undergo a year-long public consultation period before being finalised.
The EPA also last week announced two proposals to cut methane-rich gas at new, modified and existing municipal landfills by a nearly a third compared to current requirements.
Municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the US, accounting for 18% of output in 2013 and equating to approximately 100 million tonnes of CO2 annually, the EPA said.
The rules, if approved in their current form, are expected to slash the country’s landfill emissions by 12.2 million tonnes of CO2e per year.