Dangerous Methane Pollution from Oil and Gas Industry Can Be Cut in Half

According to report from leading environmental groups issued ahead of EPA decision on methane standards


Phillip Ellis, Earthjustice, (202) 755-4221

A new report from leading climate advocates today shows how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can cut climate warming methane pollution in half—while dramatically reducing harmful, wasteful air pollution from the oil and gas industry at the same time—by issuing federal standards for methane pollution based on available, low-cost technologies and practices.

The oil and gas sector are the largest U.S. industrial emitters of methane, which is the primary constituent of natural gas and the second-biggest driver of climate change after carbon dioxide. Smog-forming, toxic chemicals that leak from oil and gas sites along with methane also harm air quality, endangering the health of people in neighboring communities.

Read the report summary »

“Waste Not: Common Sense Measures to Reduce Methane Emissions from the Oil and Natural Gas Industry”, shows how EPA can fulfill its responsibility under the Clean Air Act to cut methane pollution from the entire oil and gas industry by issuing performance standards for methane emissions. Standards based on the technology and practices reviewed in this report could cut methane pollution from the sector by half—saving enough gas to heat at least 3 million homes.

A Report Summary encapsulating the report’s findings was released today by co-authors Clean Air Task Force, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club. Earthjustice, Earthworks and Environmental Defense Fund have also reviewed the report and support its recommendations for EPA standards for methane emissions. The full report with technical recommendations will be available later this fall.

Under the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan, the “Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions” specifically directs EPA to assess methane emissions from the oil and gas industry and determine whether to set federal standards under the Clean Air Act to reduce these emissions. After the release of several technical “white papers” this spring assessing methane control measures, EPA is expected to decide on whether to issue methane standards this fall.

Most of the industry’s methane pollution comes from leaks and intentional venting that can be identified and curbed with existing, low-cost technology and better maintenance practices. This report zeroes in on the biggest sources of methane emissions in the sector and identifies the readily available control measures: finding and fixing leaks; controlling emissions from compressors and other equipment; and stopping the venting of methane from wells.

The methane standards recommended in the report would cut up to 10 times more methane and up to four times more smog-forming pollutants than alternative approaches, because methane standards would apply to oil and gas infrastructure across the country, not just to equipment located in selected areas.

Statement from David Doniger, Director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council:
“This is the most significant, most cost-effective thing the administration can do to tackle climate change pollution that it hasn’t already committed to do. Curbing the dangerous methane pollution leaking from the oil and gas industry is critical to meeting the nation’s climate protection targets. Along with cutting carbon pollution from power plants and vehicles, these practical steps are the one-two punch we need to stave off the worst effects of a disrupted climate.”

Statement from Deb Nardone, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas campaign:
“The most effective way to solve the climate crisis is to keep all dirty fossil fuels, like fracked gas, in the ground, because even the most rigorous methane controls will fail to do what is needed to fight climate disruption. Fracking threatens to transform our most beautiful wild places, our communities, and our backyards into dirty fuel industrial sites, so in the short term the EPA must work quickly to control methane from existing fracking operations, close the exemptions that allow the oil and gas industries to benefit at the cost of our health, prevent future leasing of our public lands and advance truly clean energy like wind, solar and energy efficiency.

Statement from Conrad Schneider, Advocacy Director for Clean Air Task Force:
“Issuing an oil and gas methane rule gives the Obama Administration the opportunity to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction target. This rule will provide more than 100 million metric tons of greenhouse gas reductions, every ton of which will be necessary to meet this commitment. Doing so can help confirm the U.S.’s credibility that we fulfill our climate promises.”

Statement from Mark Brownstein, Associate Vice President for U.S. Climate and Energy, Environmental Defense Fund:
“Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas pollutant but you don’t have to be an environmentalist to know that methane leaks are simply a waste of a valuable national energy resource. The good news is that there are simple technologies and practices that the oil and industry can use to substantially reduce this waste, creating new opportunities for American companies and new jobs for American workers.”

Statement from Tim Ballo, Earthjustice attorney:
“This report makes clear that it’s time for the EPA to take common-sense steps to protect people and the environment from methane pollution caused by oil and gas operations. Ending wasteful leaks is an important step towards solving the pollution problems that the oil and gas industry is creating for communities nationwide.”

The report also shows how the same measures that cut methane pollution in half can reduce cancer-causing and smog-forming air pollutants that are released from the sector alongside methane by approximately 14 to 22 percent, respectively.

Methane warms the climate at least 80 times more than an equal amount of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. While the nation emits fewer tons of methane than of carbon dioxide, the potency of methane makes its impact on the climate huge. About 25 percent of the warming we are experiencing today is attributable to methane emissions. Taking steps to address methane, in addition to carbon pollution, is critical to combating climate change.

Natural gas well pads, pipelines, and other associated infrastructure in the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming.
Natural gas well pads, pipelines, and other associated infrastructure in the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming. Once home to pristine, clean air and very little industrial activity, emissions from oil and gas production in this area now lead to unhealthy levels of smog. (Ecoflight)

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