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On August 18, the U.S. EPA announced new regulations to control methane emissions from oil and gas sites.
The EPA has already proposed limits on carbon emissions from power plants. The latest rules are also an effort to reduce heat-trapping gases as part of the Obama administration's campaign to address climate change. The first-ever regulations released on Monday will aim to reduce methane emissions -- a potent greenhouse gas -- by 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025.
Over a short period of time, methane is actually a lot more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its warming effect. That means slashing methane emissions is critical to achieving climate goals.
Methane is accidentally released up and down the oil and gas drilling supply chain -- at the well head but also along pipelines and processing facilities. EPA's regulations will require the industry to cut down on emissions at drilling sites and in transmission infrastructure. Companies will also have to monitor emissions levels.
Although the oil and gas industry opposes the move (and environmental groups welcome it) the technology to cut down on methane emissions appears relatively straightforward and compliance with EPA's rules should not be too difficult.
One caveat to the new rules is that they only apply to new sources of methane, not existing ones. Existing sources of methane can participate under a voluntary program but are not required to slash methane.
Separately, a new study finds that a vast majority of methane is emitted from natural gas gathering facilities that connect natural gas from drill sites to their ultimate destination. The study, published in Environmental Science and Technology and sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund, found that natural gas gathering facilities emit 100 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year, or eight times more gas than the EPA has estimated. The emitted gas could heat 3.2 million American homes each year.
The EPA does not have plans to regulate these existing sources of methane for the time being, as doing so would be much more complicated and costly for the industry. But leaving a massive source of methane unregulated means that the ability for the U.S. to achieve certain emissions targets over the long term is questionable.