Environmental Defense Fund Applauds New White House Methane Goal

Federal strategy promises to cut waste, speed climate protection; 45% reduction target is achievable with low-cost technologies but additional policies are needed to reach it

January 14, 2015


Anna Geismar, 512-691-3468 (o) or 512-627-2518 (m), ageismar@edf.org
Jon Coifman, 212-616-1325 (o) or 917-575-1885 (m), jcoifman@edf.org 

(Washington, D.C. — January 14, 2015) Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today applauded the goal announced by the Obama administration to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry 45 percent by 2025. Once achieved, the new target—the first-ever federal requirement to directly reduce this dangerous pollutant—will save millions of tons of natural gas now being wasted each year while protecting local air quality and reducing one of the most potent threats to the global climate.

The administration announced actions across federal agencies that will secure important reductions in harmful methane pollution and help make progress toward the new goal. But further policies will be needed to reach the target, according to EDF, including measures to address existing emissions sources, which will generate the vast majority of the industry’s emissions for many years to come.

“This is a landmark moment: direct federal regulation of methane is essential, and the administration has set the right goal and launched solid steps to get started,” said EDF President Fred Krupp. “However, we will need a clearer roadmap and more decisive action to ensure the administration tackles the most important part of the problem—emissions from existing wells, pipelines, and facilities. Otherwise, the goal will not be reached. There is no reason to wait ten years to fix a problem that can be addressed right now at low cost.

“Methane pollution is both an environmental threat and a needless waste that the energy industry has failed to take on,” Krupp continued. “Oil and gas companies squander enough natural gas each year to heat almost 6 million homes. The good news is that cost-effective solutions to this problem are readily available, and this new target is absolutely achievable. Momentum has been growing on this issue at the state and federal level, and I am pleased to see administration step up and begin the job. There is much more to do.”

A study by the technology consulting firm ICF International found that the oil and gas industry could cut methane emissions 40 percent or more for about one penny per thousand cubic feet of natural gas produced – about one-third of one percent at today’s prices – by replacing emissions-prone valves and properly maintaining pumps and other devices.

“Reducing methane and other pollutants is not rocket science,” said EDF Associate Vice President & Chief Counsel Mark Brownstein, who leads the organization’s natural gas program. “The smarter companies are already taking steps to address methane emissions, but the vast majority are not. That is why we need a policy that makes ‘best practice’ the standard practice.”

Methane regulations for the oil and gas industry enjoy strong public backing. In a bipartisan poll commissioned by American Lung Association in December, 63 percent of voters favored standards for methane emissions. After hearing arguments on both sides, support increased to 66 percent, and Republican support grew from 45 to 53 percent.

States including Colorado, Wyoming, Ohio and California are already incorporating leading practices into their regulatory frameworks. Through simple measures like requiring producers to regularly inspect equipment and repair leaks, for example, Colorado will eliminate over 100,000 tons of methane pollution along with 90,000 tons of smog-forming pollutants annually.

“To some extent, Washington is simply playing catching up with leading states right now,” Brownstein said. “Going forward, today’s announcement is going to set a floor, rather than a ceiling. We expect to see more states and local communities to keep pressing ahead with safeguards of their own.”

Voluntary Steps Aren’t Enough

Nationwide, oil and gas industry operations emit 8 million metric tons of unburned methane each year, according to EPA figures. Some opponents have argued that emissions are dropping without new rules. But in fact, the reductions in question have occurred largely in response to state and federal policy rather than voluntary industry initiative. Indeed, a recent study by the University of Texas suggests emissions from unregulated parts of the production process have not declined, and may in fact be higher than current industry and EPA estimates.

“It is naïve to think an industry with many thousands of companies would be able to police itself.” Brownstein said. “A basic set of regulations are absolutely necessary to assure the public that all companies will play by the same set of rules.”

Fast, Cheap Way to Cut Pollution

Reducing methane emissions is one of the fastest, cheapest ways to cut highly potent greenhouse gas emissions. One quarter of the warming we currently experience is caused by methane, a highly potent heat-trapping pollutant: Methane has over 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year frame. Methane emissions from the oil and gas sector are equivalent to the pollution from 180 coal-fired power plants. Cleaning up these emissions is critical complement to the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Methane pollution controls would bring important public health benefits for communities located near oil and gas development, by simultaneously cutting smog-forming and cancer-causing pollutants from the oil and gas sector.

The BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of unions and environmental groups that altogether represent 16 million Americans, is pushing for EPA to act because the new standards will create good jobs protecting the environment and saving energy. American companies and American workers are ready, willing and able to provide the technology and services oil and gas companies will need. A diverse array of energy industry service and technology companies with over 500 locations in 46 states stand ready to deliver. 

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Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on EDF Voices, Twitter and Facebook.