WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration on Tuesday proposed cutting methane emissions from U.S. oil and gas production by nearly half over the next decade, part of an effort by President Barack Obama to curb climate change.
The administration’s target is to cut methane from oil and gas drilling by 40% to 45 by 2025, compared to 2012 levels. The move was not unexpected; officials had set the same goal in a preliminary blueprint in January. Still, by moving forward with the official proposal, Obama is adding to a list of energy regulations that have drawn applause from environmentalists and ire from energy advocates.
To help meet the goal, the administration issued a rule cutting emissions from new and modified oil and natural gas wells, along with updated standards for drilling to reduce leakage from wells on public lands.
The rule would require energy producers to find and repair leaks at oil and gas wells and capture gas that escapes from wells that use a common drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Officials estimate the rule would cost industry from $320 million to $420 million in 2025, with reduced health-care costs and other benefits totaling about $460 million to $550 million.
“Today, through our cost-effective proposed standards, we are underscoring our commitment to reducing the pollution fueling climate change and protecting public health while supporting responsible energy development, transparency and accountability,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement.
The administration is expected to finalize the rules next year shortly before Obama leaves office.
Methane, the key component of natural gas, tends to leak during oil and gas production. Although it makes up just a sliver of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, it is far more powerful than the more prevalent gas carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. That makes methane a top target for environmentalists concerned about global warming.
“While we haven’t had a chance to review fully the 500-plus page proposal, INGAA is concerned that some aspects of the EPA’s methane proposal would be impossible to implement cost-effectively, and that the regulations, if implemented, could adversely affect the reliability of interstate natural gas pipelines,” said Don Santa, INGAA president and chief executive officer. “We intend to analyze the proposal fully and to file comments with EPA.”
With his presidency drawing to a close, Obama has been in a rush to propose and then finalize sweeping regulations targeting greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
The methane rule follows a landmark regulation Obama finalized earlier this month to cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants by 32%. The plan, the centerpiece of Obama’s climate change strategy, drew immediate legal challenges from power companies and Republican-led states.
Obama also has proposed regulations targeting carbon pollution from airplanes and set new standards to improve fuel efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide pollution from trucks and vans.
In total, Obama has set a goal to cut overall U.S. emissions by 26% to 28% over the next decade, as he seeks to leave a legacy of using the full range of his executive power to fight climate change and encourage other countries to do the same.
Katie Brown, a spokeswoman for Energy In Depth, an oil industry group, said methane emissions from fracking are already declining because of improved drilling techniques.
“Cheap natural gas has delivered substantial climate benefits that came largely from voluntary reductions by industry and technological innovation,” she said. “Federal regulations, especially if crafted poorly, could inflict more pain on the men and women who work in the oil and gas industry.”
The administration said the rule would apply only to emissions from new or modified natural gas wells, meaning thousands of existing wells won’t have to comply.
Environmentalists say that the ambitious goals announced under the proposed rule would be difficult to meet without targeting existing wells.