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Science & Environment

EPA Announces New Regulations On Methane Emissions


Earlier this summer, the White House placed strict limits on carbon dioxide emissions. The target now is methane. The EPA announced today that it wants new restrictions on the amount of methane or natural gas released by the energy industry. While drillers also say they want to reduce methane leaks, NPR's Jeff Brady reports they opposes these new regulation.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The White House is clearly showing it's serious about climate change as world leaders prepare to meet on the issue in Paris later this year. Today's new methane proposals are the latest evidence of that. Janet McCabe heads the EPA's office that regulates air pollution. She pointed out during a conference call that while there is more carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, methane is more dangerous.

JANET MCCABE: And also a powerful greenhouse gas that is more than 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in our atmosphere.

BRADY: There are a lot of ways methane leaks into the atmosphere when an oil company is producing crude or natural gas. It can happen when a well is being hydraulically fractured or fracked to make it more productive. It can happen when fuel is transported through a pipeline.

The new regulations are designed to limit those leaks wherever they happen during the production process. Because methane is an especially damaging greenhouse gas, the White House set a goal based on how much methane was released in 2012. The administration wants to reduce that by up to 45 percent over the next decade. The EPA's McCabe admits these new rules will get the country only partway toward that goal.

MCCABE: As we move forward, additional opportunities will be identified in order to get to that goal. That doesn't mean that we have every last one of them identified as of this moment.

BRADY: The EPA has a voluntary program to encourage oil and gas companies to limit methane emissions. The industry prefers that approach over new rules, especially right now when companies have been drilling thousands of new wells across the country into layers of shale deep underground. That has boosted oil and gas production significantly, making the U.S. a major energy player across the globe again.

HOWARD FELDMAN: And these rules that have been proposed now could jeopardize that shale revolution that is underway.

BRADY: Howard Feldman is a senior director with the American Petroleum Institute. He says the industry already has reduced methane emissions, even as drilling has increased. He argues voluntary measures would work in this case because what's leaking is something companies make money from.

FELDMAN: The industry's already incentivized to reduce its emissions from methane. That's the product that we sell. It's very different than a lot of other emissions where it's not what you're interested in.

BRADY: But the industry hasn't always valued methane. For example, in North Dakota, the drilling boom there has been focused on oil. Natural gas is a byproduct, and since there aren't pipelines to get it out of the state, some of it is just burned on site. The regulations the EPA announced today are just proposals. The agency will collect public comments and is expected to issue final rules before President Obama leaves office. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.