WASHINGTON – The Obama administration plans to require the oil and gas industry to cut methane emissions from the drilling and transportation of fossil fuels by as much as 45 percent over the next decade, another step in its efforts to curb greenhouse gases tied to climate change.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will unveil its plans as soon as Wednesday, according to people familiar with the deliberations. The EPA will seek methane cuts from the industry of 40 percent to 45 percent by 2025 compared with 2012 levels, according to an administration official not authorized to speak publicly.
The proposal would be a victory for environmental groups that have lobbied the administration to force the industry to directly target methane, the second-most-prevalent gas tied to climate change, after carbon dioxide. The gas seeps from wells and the compressors, pumps, pipes and storage tanks that make up the oil and gas production and distribution network.
“If the reported target is correct, and if there’s a solid program offered to achieve it, then this is indeed a landmark moment,” Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement. “Methane pollution is both an environmental problem and a needless waste of energy.”
Liz Purchia, a spokeswoman for EPA, declined to comment on the agency’s plan. The agency has said it would decide early this year if it would regulate methane, followed months later by issuing a draft rule. A final rule could be more than a year away.
Industry groups have argued that voluntary steps and some modest expansion of existing rules would be sufficient. Methane emissions have declined even as oil and gas production increased, they say.
“The administration has an opportunity to work cooperatively with the industry to achieve a shared goal rather than initiate yet another rule-making process that adds uncertainty on both timing and substance,” Dan Whitten, a spokesman for America’s Natural Gas Alliance, said in an e-mail before the proposal was first reported. ANGA’s President Marty Durbin met with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy last week to press his group’s case.
While companies have a vested interest in keeping methane, which is basically natural gas, bottled up, enough of it manages to escape that could heat 6 million homes, according to Krupp.
That is worrisome because methane is 25 times more potent than carbon at trapping heat.
The administration of President Barack Obama has embraced gas as a cleaner alternative to coal because it produces about half the carbon dioxide when burned to generate electricity. Leaks could reduce natural gas’s climate benefits.
Obama’s EPA estimates about 30 million metric tons of methane was emitted in 2012, 9 percent of the total U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. Carbon accounted for more than 80 percent.
About one-third of the methane emissions come from oil and gas production and transmission. Rules the EPA already issued have led to a drop in methane emissions from the production of natural gas. Those rules didn’t cover oil wells, or the processing and transmission of the gas, which is also a big source of leaks.