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EPA lays out weak plan to regulate methane from the oil and gas industry

Posted Jan. 14, 2015 / Posted by: Kate Colwell

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today the Environmental Protection Agency released a ”strategy” for regulating methane from the oil and gas industry. This document outlines one part of the Obama Administration’s strategy to reduce methane emissions across various sectors. Methane from the booming oil and gas industry is the fastest-growing source of the heat-trapping gases that threaten to ignite runaway climate change.

“Putting out a plan that aims to reduce methane emissions is yet another delay in making true progress. While the Obama Administration puts off taking action, the world is already feeling the devastating impacts of climate disruption,” said Kate DeAngelis, Climate and energy campaigner of Friends of the Earth. “If the Obama administration is serious about addressing climate change, we must leave fossil fuels in the ground.”

Addressing methane emissions is essential since methane is a greenhouse gas that is 87 times as potent as carbon dioxide over a 20 year timeframe. Unfortunately, the proposed plan uses a global warming potential of 25, which is not only out-of-date according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but also fails to account for the severe short-term warming impacts of methane. Methane emissions are a major problem for the oil and gas sector; some estimates put methane leakage from oil and gas production at 17 percent. These emissions are the largest factor behind a Cornell University review of the scientific research that found conventional natural gas emits more greenhouse gas emissions than coal.

New wells are not the only ones that are at issue; both existing and old wells that are no longer in use remain a significant source of methane emissions. According to the today’s release, the rule that the EPA anticipates proposing will do nothing to address these emissions because it only addresses new sources of methane pollution. A recent study found that Pennsylvania alone has 300,000 to 500,000 abandoned oil and gas wells, some of which are leaking significant amounts of methane emissions. Nationally, there are at least three million abandoned wells. The proposed rule must cover existing sources to ensure that oil and gas companies address these old wells and plug the worst emitters.

“President Obama must not issue any new leases on public land (both on and offshore) at the very least until the regulations are finalized and binding. Otherwise it's the cart before the trojan horse,” said Charlie Cray, research specialist of Greenpeace. “All of the above should include no more from below.”

The Obama administration must reconsider their strategy on methane and put out a much stronger proposed rule than they suggest today. First, the rule should put forward mandatory curbs on methane, as voluntary approaches will not be sufficient to avert catastrophic climate change. In addition, the rule should factor in the social cost of carbon, which puts a dollar amount on the damages caused by the increase in greenhouse gas emissions from a certain action, such as drilling for oil. This would ensure that the fossil fuel industry is paying for the damage they do to the environment and public health. Finally, in order to properly regulate methane, the Obama Administration must address hydraulic fracturing -- also known as fracking -- which emits large amounts of a methane.

“This announcement is an important step forward, but the simple truth is that if we’re serious about mitigating catastrophic climate change, we need stronger curbs on methane emissions, and we need them faster,” said David Arkush, Managing Director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program. “It’s disappointing that the EPA issued a plan to regulate rather than proposing an actual rule.”

President Obama has a history of supporting natural gas through his ”all of the above” energy strategy. He will need to rethink these policies if he wants to meet his recent commitment of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.


Expert contacts:
Kate DeAngelis, (202) 222-0747,
Charlie Cray, (202) 497-3673,
David Arkush, (202) 454-5132,  

Communications contact: Kate Colwell, (202) 222- 0744,

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