Last week, the White House announced its new plan to cut methane emissions, the tenants of which could have far reaching implications for the oil and gas industry. Titled the “Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions,” the plan outlines a coordinated interagency response to methane reduction that targets a broad swath of industries, including waste disposal, coal mining, and agriculture.
But many of the strategy’s core components are directed squarely at the oil and gas sector. The Obama Administration aims to institute a combination of voluntary programs and targeted regulations designed to cut the amount of methane released during the production and transmission of oil and gas. Specifically, the plan introduces the following initiatives:
- Targeting Emission Sources: This spring, the U.S. EPA will release a series of technical white papers that will identify potentially significant sources of methane within the oil and gas sector. These papers will focus on emissions control technologies and will be used by the agency to solicit feedback from industry insiders. The agency will then use the information it collects to determine how best to curb methane emissions. If additional technical guidelines or regulations under the Clean Air Act are deemed necessary, the agency must enact its new standards by the end of 2016.
- Voluntary Coordination: The Department of Energy (“DOE”) will host roundtables that will bring together industry leaders, state government officials, academics, and other stakeholders to discuss best practices for reducing methane. These meetings are meant to encourage participation in voluntary emission reduction programs and facilitate the exchange of cost effective ways to cut the release of methane within the industry.
- Venting and Flaring Regulations: By the end of this year, the Bureau of Land Management must draft updated regulations to mitigate methane venting and flaring during oil and gas production on public and tribal lands.
- Enhancing Downstream Control Technologies: In its 2015 budget proposal, the Administration has devoted $4.7 million to the creation of a DOE program aimed at developing and disseminating technologies that improve gas pipeline maintenance, monitoring, and leak detection.
- Improving Methane Measurement: The Administration has committed to developing and refining the government’s approach to greenhouse gas monitoring by focusing on the sources and activities that release methane. In conjunction with this new approach, the Administration will promote and fund the development of technologies capable of quantifying greenhouse gas emissions with greater precision.
The strategy is an extension of President Obama’s 2013 Climate Action Plan, in which the President pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically by the end of the decade. According to the Administration, the initiatives set forth in its methane plan could cut methane discharges by an estimated 90 million tons by 2020. Last year, the gas represented 14% of the country’s total greenhouse emissions.