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EPA Proposes Rule to Reduce Methane Emissions from New Oil and Gas Wells

On the heels of President Obama's Clean Power Plan rule that reduces carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, the new rule focuses on the other major greenhouse gas, methane, and rather than coal, it is focused on oil and gas drilling.
August 20, 2015, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"The Environment Protection Agency is proposing a new rule that would reduce methane emissions from oil and natural-gas drilling by 40 to 45 percent of 2012 levels by 2025," writes Krishnadev Calamur, a senior editor at The Atlantic. "The rules, which would apply only to new and modified gas wells, were first outlined in January by the White House" (and posted here).

EPA's final Clean Power Plan rule, released earlier this month, addressed carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, particularly those that burned coal.  

"Both (carbon dioxide and methane) contribute to global warming, but methane’s global-warming potential (the amount of heat trapped by a specific amount of mass) is more than 25 times greater than that of CO2, the EPA says," writes Calamur. "The oil and gas industry was responsible for about 30 percent of methane emissions in the U.S. in 2012. 

The energy industry opposes the regulations. In fact, the oil industry seems the rule as part of the administration's "war on oil," notwithstanding President Obama's go-ahead on August 18 to Shell to begin drilling in the Arctic Ocean

In addition to methane, the new rules will reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, a major component of smog, from the new wells according to EPA's press release. While methane is a major component of natural gas, the rule will affect oil drilling, particularly where fracking is involved as the press release indicates:

EPA’s proposal would also require that industry reduce VOC and methane emissions from hydraulically fractured and refractured oil wells, which can contain significant amounts of natural gas along with oil

"In a conference call with reporters, Janet McCabe, the Environmental Protection Agency’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, said the rules were designed to ensure that oil and gas companies reduced waste and sold more gas that would otherwise be lost, while protecting the climate and the health of the public," write Gardiner Harris and Coral Davenport for The New York Times.

The environmental community welcomed the new rule, but also expressed some caution. "Controlling methane, however, is not an end in itself and it will not make fracked oil and gas safe," stated Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club in a press release.
Continued reliance on dirty fossil fuels is a dangerous course for our communities and our climate. We must move swiftly to truly clean energy like wind, solar and energy efficiency while establishing policies that keep fossil fuels in the ground."
For an audio account of the new rules, listen to NPR's report, transcript included.
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Published on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 in The Atlantic
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