The Biden administration has rolled out what it calls a “super-emitter response program” Friday that’s intended to push the fossil-fuel industry to control how much atmosphere-warming methane it spews into the air.
The initiative, announced as President Joe Biden addresses on Friday the U.N.’s Conference of Parties, or COP27, climate summit, would require operators to respond to credible third-party reports of high-volume methane leaks.
And the proposal and summit speech will hit even as Biden had pressed energy producers for more oil drilling to lower prices at the gasoline pump
especially in the runup to closely contested midterm elections.
Methane is a more potent, but shorter-lasting, greenhouse gas (GHG) compared to carbon dioxide. Both are responsible for heating up the atmosphere and thus, fueling heat waves, drought, coastal erosion and other costly environmental worries. The emissions from fossil fuels are targets of global efforts to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a target established with the Paris accord in 2015 and the center of COP summits in the years since.
and natural gas
operations are the nation’s largest industrial source of methane. The gas industry, in particular, has called out its own efforts to cap leaks and better measure leaks along its pipeline system, and it maintains that natural gas in particular will have to play an economical role in a transition to cleaner energy.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that in 2030, the proposal announced Friday would reduce methane from covered sources by 87% below 2005 levels.
EPA’s estimates also show the updated proposal would reduce VOC emissions by 9.7 million tons from 2023 to 2035, and air toxics emissions, including chemicals such as benzene and toluene, by 390,000 tons. Recent studies have pegged these chemicals in increased blood cancer risks in certain situations.
“The United States is once again a global leader in confronting the climate crisis, and we must lead by example when it comes to tackling methane pollution – one of the biggest drivers of climate change,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan.
“We’re listening to public feedback and strengthening our proposed oil and gas industry standards, which will enable innovative new technology to flourish while protecting people and the planet,” he said.
The new EPA rule follows up on a methane rule Biden announced last year at the U.N. climate summit in Scotland. The 2021 rule targeted emissions from existing oil and gas wells nationwide, rather than focusing only on new wells as previous EPA regulations have done.
And, the update goes a step further, targeting all drilling sites, including smaller wells that emit about 3 tons (2.7 metric tonnes) of methane per year.
Multiple studies have found that smaller wells produce just 6% of the nation’s oil and gas but account for up to half the methane emissions from well sites. Small wells currently are subject to an initial inspection, but are rarely checked again for leaks.
Still, the president has tried to walk the line between keeping a focus on climate change and responding to the energy supply and price crisis born from Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Biden has accused oil companies of “war profiteering” and raised the possibility of imposing a windfall tax on energy companies if they don’t boost domestic production.
The new EPA proposal includes requirements for states to develop plans to limit methane emissions from hundreds of thousands of existing sources nationwide.
EPA is proposing to require states to submit those plans within 18 monthsafter the final rule is issued, and to establish compliance deadlines for existing sources that are no later than three years after the submission deadline. The supplemental proposal includes requirements for considering the communities most affected by and vulnerable to oil and gas emissions, along with ademonstration of meaningful community engagement as states develop their plans.
EPA estimates that the supplemental proposal will yield total net climate benefits valued at $34 billion to $36 billion from 2023 to 2035 (the equivalent of about $3.1 to $3.2 billion per year), after taking into account the costs of compliance and savings from recovered natural gas.
The Associated Press contributed.