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EPA Rules Aim To Slash Oil Industry Methane Emissions

A natural gas drilling rig's lights shimmer in the evening light near Silt, Colo.
David Gilkey
A natural gas drilling rig's lights shimmer in the evening light near Silt, Colo.

The Obama administration unveiled plans Tuesday that would curb the methane that leaks from facilities related to oil and natural gas production. Methane is one of the greenhouse gases that trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere.

Overall, the administration aims to cut emissions from oil and gas production by up to 45 percent over the next decade when compared with 2012 levels. Tuesday's proposals from the Environmental Protection Agency would apply to new natural gas wells, and also require producers to fix leaks in equipment such as pipelines and pumps and other equipment used to transport methane.

NPR's Jeff Brady tells our Newscast unit:

"These proposed regulations are in addition to a rule made final earlier this month to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants — especially those burning coal. This proposal applies to oil and natural gas production, including drilling, processing and transporting these fossil fuels. Often in the process methane escapes into the atmosphere, and that's even more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide."

The EPA's move was not out of the blue. The White House forecast that it would be making changes in January. In the summary of the proposal, citing its own 2009 study, the EPA in its rule said:

"The EPA found that by causing or contributing to climate change, [greenhouse gases] endanger both the public health and the public welfare of current and future generations."

Methane's tendency to leak during oil and gas production makes it a prime target for groups that raise concerns about climate change. Although as NPR's Christopher Joyce pointed out earlier this year, the federal government estimates the leaks are just a small fraction, about 2 percent, of what comes out of the ground.

The Wall Street Journal reports the new rules won't be received by the oil and gas industry uniformly.

"The move is expected to reverberate across the industry unevenlyas different players in the sector have so far made varying degrees of progress in reducing methane emissions ahead of the proposed rules."

The EPA will hold public hearings and take comment from the public for 60 days before finalizing the rule.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.