EPA’s new rules to curb methane emissions fail to impress

Gas flare
Source: DollarPhotoClub

The plan to curb methane emissions associated with oil and gas exploration, released on Tuesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has failed to satisfy both the industry and the environmentalists.

Methane emissions, which may occur during oil and gas extraction and transportation is a serious problem, non the least because methane, in its free state, is twenty times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over 100 years.

The EPA estimates methane accounted for about 10 percent of total US greenhouse-gas emissions in 2012, with the oil and gas industry responsible for almost a third of the emissions.

Faulty oil and gas equipment and leaky systems emit more than 8 million metric tons of unburned methane each year, the climate equivalent of running 180 coal-fired power plants, the EPA says.

The Environmental Protection Agency proposal calls for a cut in national methane emissions from 2012 levels within the next 10 years, with tighter rules meant to prevent methane from escaping pipes and compression facilities, along with setting limits on the release of volatile organic compounds.

The proposed rules, which aim for a 45 percent reduction by 2025, have come under severe criticism for not addressing older, abandoned and often leaky wells and concentrating exclusively on ongoing exploration. On the other hand, the industry pointed out that the rules are superfluous as the proposed steps have already been taken by the the exploration companies voluntarily.

“It cannot be lost on anyone that shale-related methane emissions continue to steeply drop as natural gas production sharply climbs,” Dave Spigelmyer, president of the North Fayette-based Marcellus Shale Coalition told TribLive. “These positive results are a function of the industry’s widespread use of operational best practices and continuous investments aimed at protecting and enhancing our environment, especially air quality.”

While Marty Durbin, CEO of America’s Natural Gas Alliance, added: “Natural gas producers will continue reducing methane emissions regardless of this proposal”.

Environmentalists, however, are not convinced by the industry’s assurances. They are also concerned that the EPA regulations don’t go far enough, initially targeting only new or refurbished installations, accounting for only 10 percent of the facilities currently in use.

“EPA has now run a voluntary program for reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry for the past 20 years, and frankly 99 percent of industry has failed to step up to the plate to participate,” Mark Brownstein, vice president of Environmental Defense Fund’s climate and energy programme, told InsideClimate News.

“It is naive to think that all [oil and gas producers] are simply going to sign up to do what’s right absent some prodding from federal and state regulation,” he said.

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