The United States unveils efforts against methane from the oil and gas industry

A pipeline moving methane gas from the Frank R. Bowerman landfill to an on-site power plant appears in Irvine, California, California, USA, June 15, 2021. Photo taken June 15, 2021. REUTERS / Mike Blake / File Photo

  • Oil, gas methane emissions at the heart of the EPA plan
  • U.S. oil and gas companies must monitor 300,000 wells
  • The goal is to reduce 74% of methane emissions from 2005 levels by 2035

Nov 2 (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday unveiled a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas operations as part of its strategy to crack down on climate change and draw cautious support from both environmental groups and drillers.

The announcement coincided with the UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, where the United States, the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is trying to regain leadership on the world stage by demonstrating tangible steps to limit emissions in the home.

US President Joe Biden has set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50% by 2030, but he is fighting to pass climate law through a deeply divided Congress, making policies from federal agencies more crucial.

His administration and the EU are also seeking to lead a new international pact to reduce the methane economy by 30% by 2030, drawing participation from over 100 countries.

Methane is the second largest cause of climate change after carbon dioxide. Its high heat-absorbing potential and relatively short lifetime in the atmosphere mean that reducing its emissions can have an overall impact on the world’s climate orbit.

At the heart of the U.S. plan to tackle methane in the domestic market is a proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency that, for the first time, will require oil and gas operators to aggressively detect and repair methane leaks. Oil and gas operations account for a third of methane emissions.

“The timing of this is critical. As we speak, world leaders are gathering in Glasgow right now, looking to the United States for genuine leadership,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan told Reuters in an interview. “This proposal is absolutely courageous, aggressive and comprehensive.”

Specifically, the proposal would require companies to monitor 300,000 of their largest wells every three months, ban venting of methane produced as a by-product of crude oil into the atmosphere, and require equipment upgrades such as storage tanks, compressors, and pneumatic pumps.

The rules will most likely enter into force in 2023 and will be aimed at cutting methane from oil and gas operations by 74% from 2005 levels by 2035, a volume equivalent to the emissions created by all US passenger cars and aircraft in 2019, according to Resumé .

While the United States has never before proposed regulating methane emissions from existing sources, in 2016 the Obama administration imposed restrictions on methane emissions from new oil and gas infrastructure.

These rules, which were weaker than the new EPA proposals, were scrapped by former President Donald Trump before being reinstated earlier this year by Congress.

The new EPA rules are expected to add “pennies” to the price of a barrel of oil or a thousand cubic feet of gas, according to the EPA’s analysis. But the oil industry group American Exploration & Production Council said they could add “significant new costs associated with compliance.”

The American Petroleum Institute, which represents the U.S. oil and gas industry, said it was reviewing the proposals.

“We support the direct regulation of methane from new and existing sources and are committed to building on the progress we have made in reducing methane emissions,” the statement said.

The major producer BP Plc (BP.L), which has sought to polish its green credentials and invests heavily in clean energy, said it welcomed the EPA proposals.

The Washington-based environmental group Earthworks also called the proposals a positive step, but its political director, Lauren Pagel, said “no well should be exempted from common sense standards when we know all wells pollute.”

The American Lung Association also said the proposal was a good start, but the EPA needs to “set stronger boundaries and finalize them into law without delay.”

QUARTERLY MONITORING

One contentious issue is the fact that the EPA’s proposal for well monitoring only applies to sites that emit an estimated three tonnes of methane per year or more.

The agency said the three-tonne threshold would capture sites responsible for 86% of the leak.

Smaller sites will require less research.

Oil and gas industry groups had pressured the EPA to exclude smaller wells from the rules, citing the large number of such wells and the cost of monitoring and repairs.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, had pushed for all well sites to be covered, and also sought restrictions on incineration: the practice of burning methane that comes out of the ground as a by-product during crude oil drilling.

The EPA said it will release a supplementary proposal next year to deepen the rules and possibly expand them to include additional methane sources, including abandoned oil and gas wells, flares and tank truck loading.

The Biden administration’s methane strategy will also include a new proposal from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration that requires companies to monitor and repair leaks of about 400,000 miles (643,740 km) of previously unregulated natural gas collection lines.

The administration’s broader methane plan also proposes new voluntary measures from the Department of Agriculture and Home Affairs to tackle methane emissions from other major sources, including landfills, agriculture and abandoned wells and coal mines.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Nichola Groom; Edited by Gerry Doyle and Alistair Bell

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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