The Biden administration is advancing plans to cut methane emissions sharply by the end of the decade, using tougher proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations and other efforts to hit the mark, it said Tuesday, in a move that will frustrate an oil and gas industry that says it’s been cleaning up its act without a government push. The action is part of a U.S. pledge made with the European Union to cut overall methane emissions by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030. On Tuesday, the U.S. and the EU were expected to announce that nearly 90 heads of state from around the world had joined this methane effort.
Biden reiterated his expectations for the global methane pact in his Monday remarks to the U.N.’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. Methane is more potent than carbon emissions but lasts for a shorter time in the atmosphere. On Tuesday, the EPA will be proposing a new methane rule that regulates leak detection. The action reverses the Trump administration’s nullification of Obama administration efforts in this area and goes further, a senior Biden official said. The EPA rule will apply to new operations for natural gas, including the regulation of natural gas that is produced as a byproduct of oil production, and that is frequently vented or flared. And for the first time, the proposal is to regulate existing oil and gas operations for methane emissions under the Clean Air Act, the official said. But the path for tougher regulation isn’t without uncertainty. The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to consider the scope of the EPA’s authority to restrict greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants. Oil
industries through upstream and downstream production contribute about 30% of U.S. methane emissions. That includes pipeline production, through delivery into buildings and emissions from buildings. Other sources of methane emissions are landfills, abandoned oil and gas wells and abandoned mines, as well as the agricultural sector. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), methane is responsible for about half of the 1 degree Celsius net rise in global average temperature since the pre-industrial era. Cutting methane emissions is “simply the most effective strategy we have to slow global warming in the near term,” Biden said in his Monday remarks. The methane action plan, meanwhile, targets landfills, the second largest industrial source of the gas, though this effort will come largely through voluntary cleanup. The Department of Agriculture has initiated an incentive-based program that Biden called for in an earlier executive order, which will reward farmers and ranchers for reducing methane emissions and sequestering carbon across multiple USDA programs. A separate regulatory body will be proposing a series of safety rules around leaks that will cover part of around 3 million miles of pipeline. The Department of the Interior will also review venting and flaring of methane from oil and gas operations that rent federal land. The Biden administration has already included as part of its infrastructure bill awaiting congressional action funding to plug old oil and gas wells. Read: Clean-energy jobs split nearly equally between Republican, Democratic districts — this shows where the most jobs are Methane restrictions have historically brought on legal fights. But such standards will be an “inevitable part of the energy transition, and the oil and gas industry is really going to need to get on top of this,” Sasha Mackler, director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Energy Project, told S&P Global earlier this year. “Over time, this is going to be a cost of doing business here in the U.S.,” Mackler said. “There’s really no question that these regulations are coming and that they’re needed, and so we may see some consternation and some shuffling amongst the players in the industry, but I really do think that it’s unavoidable.” Reducing methane emissions is a priority for the industry to address the risks of climate change, the trade group American Petroleum Institute has said. “Thanks to innovation and industry actions, U.S. methane emissions rates in the largest producing regions have declined 70% in the past decade, even as America produces more affordable, reliable and cleaner natural gas,” the API says on its site. Opinion: Why Are Natural Gas Prices High? Because Fracking Isn’t Really Profitable. Clean air and other environmental policy groups generally welcomed the methane efforts. “For too long this potent super pollutant has fallen off the agenda at major climate summits while its emissions have risen to all-time highs, pushing our planet closer to potentially irreversible tipping points,” said Sarah Smith, program director, super pollutants at Clean Air Task Force. “By launching the Global Methane Pledge on the world stage, they’ve made sure that methane will be front and center — where it belongs.”