US Government unveils strategy to cut methane emissions

The US government made its new methane emissions goal public this month, stipulating that by 2025, emissions from the oil and gas sector are to be cut to 40 to 45 per cent of 2012 levels.

The Obama administration believes that reaching this target would save enough natural gas to heat more than two million homes for a year.

Methane is the largest component of natural gas, widely used for domestic heating and cooking and, in compressed form, as a vehicle fuel.

The new plans apply to future oil and gas infrastructure, but not existing sites.

As part of the strategy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2012 standards for volatile organic compounds are to be further developed, with a focus on emerging technological innovations and a streamlined regulatory approach. The EPA intends to work closely with industry, states and other relevant parties to find ways to contain methane leakages and reduce emissions from oil wells, pumps, compressor stations and other sources.

The Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program will be tightened, obliging all industry players to take part. Remote sensing technologies will be investigated with a view to aiding the identification of emissions and ensuring better accuracy.

The methane emissions target owes much to President Obama’s push to make headway with his climate change agenda, using his executive authority where necessary. It appears that all Government departments are on board. The Bureau of Land Management is to update standards aimed at tackling gas leaks – this initiative will apply to existing as well as new oil and gas wells located on public land.  Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, due to look into safety standards this year, is extending its remit to include the lowering of pipeline methane emissions.

Critics of the Administration’s plans insist that they are unnecessary, given that the oil and gas sector has already made notable progress in reducing methane emissions through its voluntary programme.  It has also been pointed out that an incentive to capture methane emissions already exists – methane is, after all, a marketable product – and that agriculture is responsible for more emissions than the oil and gas industries.

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