EPA Moves to Limit Methane Emissions

Published September 4, 2015

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its proposed regulations intended to slash methane emissions from oil and gas production by almost half.

The proposal is part of the Obama administration’s ongoing efforts to curb global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In a statement, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said, “Today, through our cost-effective proposed standards, we are underscoring our commitment to reducing the pollution fueling climate change.”

EPA’s proposal would limit emissions from new or modified natural gas wells by requiring energy producers to find and repair leaks at oil and gas wells and capture gas escaping from wells that use fracking. The rules would not apply to existing wells, which number in the thousands.

The Obama administration has set an overall target of cutting methane emissions from the energy sector by 40–45 percent by 2025, compared to 2012 levels. EPA estimates these rules will cost industry between $320 million and $420 million to comply with in 2025.

‘Unnecessary and Counterproductive’

The proposal is expected to face fierce opposition from lawmakers and energy groups who argue the rules are unnecessary and will hamper the energy revolution, which they say has been one of the nation’s few success stories since the Great Recession ended in 2009.

“The EPA’s plan to limit emissions flies in the face of technological reality,” said House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) in a statement. “The truth is that while the oil and natural gas industry has greatly increased production on state and private lands, methane emissions have actually fallen. The Obama Administration continues to prioritize the fantasies of the environmental Left over American energy security and economic growth.”

“According to EPA estimates, only 1.5 percent of methane is lost during the life cycle of natural gas production,” said Isaac Orr, a research fellow at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

Gary Stone, vice president of engineering for FiveStates Energy, a Dallas-based oil and gas company, says the new rules are unnecessary because companies strive to keep methane from escaping.

“Methane is the primary component of natural gas,” said Stone. “Every cubic foot of methane that escapes into the atmosphere is a cubic foot of gas that could have been sold. Companies have every financial reason to retain that gas if at all possible, especially in this low-price environment. To think they would ignore this fact or to believe more government regulations will save money and help the situation is ludicrous.

“The EPA admits the industry has voluntarily reduced emissions through technology and developments in production techniques by 16 percent since 1990,” Stone said.

In a statement, Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, echoed Stone’s view.

“The oil and gas industry is leading the charge in reducing methane,” said Gerard. “The last thing we need is more duplicative and costly regulation that could increase the cost of energy for Americans.”

Only ‘a Good Start’?

In an interview with Fox News on August 18, David Doniger, director of climate policy for the environmental activist group Natural Resources Defense Council, called the new regulations “a good start” and said the EPA “needs to follow up by setting methane leakage standards for existing oil and gas operations nationwide.”

Additional regulations appear to be on the way. In the August 18 conference call announcing the methane regulations, Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA, said the current regulations would cut methane emissions by only 20–30 percent by 2025.

Despite repeated questions from reporters, McCabe refused to specify where the remaining reductions would come from.

“What I am saying is that as we move forward, additional opportunities will be identified in order to get to the goal,” McCabe told the press.

Stone says the proposed regulations are part of a series of ongoing attempts by the Obama administration to promote climate alarmist policies.

“EPA’s proposed rules to limit methane emissions … released by drilling and production operations are but another salvo in the current administration’s war on fossil fuels in general and the U.S. oil and gas industry in particular,” said Stone. “[These rules are based on] the same bogus Chicken Little lies told about the mythical manmade global warming beast: Man caused [Earth to warm], drastic action and taxpayer money are needed, and we’re the only ones smart enough to do anything.”

Orr says the new methane rules are politically motivated.

“This isn’t about stopping climate change; it’s about President [Barack] Obama’s climate change legacy,” Orr said. “There is an important distinction.

“The fact of the matter is these regulations will yield no tangible climate benefit,” Orr said.

The Obama administration is expected to finalize the rules in 2016 after a public consultation period. 

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.