Obama Administration Attacks Leaks and Methane Gas Emissions from Oil Wells
The Obama administration on Tuesday proposed the first federal regulations requiring the nation’s oil and gas industry to cut emissions of wasted methane gas as part of an expanding and increasingly aggressive effort to combat climate change.
In a conference call with reporters, Janet McCabe, the Environmental Protection Agency’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, said the rules were designed to ensure that oil and gas companies reduced waste and sold more natural gas that would otherwise be lost, while protecting the climate and the health of the public. Natural gas and methane are actually one and the same gas; methane is commonly called natural gas when it is captured and burned for energy, generating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions as the primary byproduct. When the methane gas is allowed to escape into the atmosphere unburned, it has a much stronger potential to increase the greenhouse gas effect of the atmosphere than the release of an equal amount of CO2 gas.
Ms. McCabe estimated that the proposals — which would require drillers to stop leaks and capture lost gas even in wells intended to extract only oil — would cost the industry up to $420 million to carry out by 2025, but that there would be savings, including reduced waste, of as much as $550 million during that period, bringing a net benefit of as much as $150 million.
The new rules, which were widely expected, are part of a broad push by the Obama administration to cut emissions of planet-warming gases from different sectors of the economy. This month, Mr. Obama unveiled the centerpiece of that plan, a final regulation meant to cut emissions of carbon dioxide by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 and increase to 28 percent the proportion of the nation’s electricity generated by renewable sources like solar and wind.
The administration has proposed rules for methane emissions because methane emissions released to the atmosphere are 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping heat. The administration has set a goal of reducing methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025.
The latest proposed regulations are expected to reduce methane emissions by 20 to 30 percent, Ms. McCabe said, getting the administration about halfway to its overall methane reduction target.
Oil and gas companies oppose the proposals, calling them unnecessary and costly, while environmental advocacy groups say they do not go far enough, because they apply mainly to new wells and not most existing ones that already leak methane gas.
Primary Source: The New York Times, August 18, 2015