U.S. Methane Strategy To Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions Targets Oil And Gas Industry

By Ben Wolford on March 29, 2014 5:38 PM EDT

Natural gas flares, like this one in North Dakota, are one of the sources of methane the Environmental Protection Agency plans to target. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Natural gas flares, like this one in North Dakota, are one of the sources of methane the Environmental Protection Agency plans to target. (Photo: Shutterstock)

A new national strategy to reduce emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane will target the oil and gas, coal, and agriculture industries, as well as study possible landfill reforms, leaving discretion over new regulations to federal agencies.

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The strategy is part of the Obama administration's Climate Action Plan and takes aim at one of the most harmful air pollutants, methane, which is many times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. "The strategy builds on progress to date and takes steps to further cut methane emissions from landfills, coal mining, and agriculture, and oil and gas systems through cost-effective voluntary actions and common-sense standards," the White House said in announcing the strategy.

As part of the plan, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department will begin a series of studies this year to determine where the greatest emissions are coming from in the four sectors. Within two years, they may enact unspecified regulations after a public comment period. Environmental advocates have said current technology could reduce emissions in the oil and gas industry by 40 percent. "We know enough to start to make those reductions now," Steve Hamburg, chief scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, told reporters in a news conference Thursday.

The oil and gas industry responded to the new strategy unenthusiastically. "We think regulation is not necessary at this time," Howard J. Feldman, of the American Petroleum Institute, told The New York Times. "People are using a lot more natural gas in the country, and that's reducing greenhouse gas."

While natural gas is a major part of the Obama administration's energy policy, the resource has drawbacks. Though its carbon footprint is cleaner than that of other fossil fuels, such as coal, it is primarily made up of methane, which, ounce for ounce, is known to have a 20-year climate change impact 84 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. President Obama has pledged to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade, according to The Times.

Much of the methane reductions would likely come from simple but costly monitoring and technological regulations. The administration may enact new rules for monitoring leaks or recapturing fumes. The strategy calls for a review of landfill standards, potential methane capture requirements at coal mines, an agriculture roadmap for possible diet and manure management changes, and a ramp-up of voluntary programs and possible regulations in the oil and gas industry. Click here to read the full methane strategy.

Above photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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