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Administration Takes Historic Action to Reduce Methane Emissions for the Oil and Gas Sector

Today, EPA announced strong steps to address methane emissions from the oil and gas sector for both new and existing sources.

No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change. That is why President Obama has made tackling climate change a pillar of his Presidency. Through the framework of the Climate Action Plan, the Administration has taken a number of important steps to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, increase resiliency, and provide strong leadership abroad. Today marks another milestone in our commitment to mitigate climate change.

Methane emissions are 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and without additional action these emissions are expected to increase. Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States from human activities, and nearly one-third of those emissions come from oil production and the production, transmission, and distribution of natural gas. In fact, recent data have shown that methane emissions from the oil and gas sector are 30 percent higher than previously estimated.

Last year, the President set a new goal to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector 40 – 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. And earlier this year, as part of the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visit, President Obama committed to develop regulations to reduce methane emissions from existing sources of oil and gas emissions, and complete the regulations as soon as possible.

Today, the Administration is taking a step forward to achieve our goal by announcing two important new actions to reduce methane emissions from both new and existing sources from the oil and gas sector.

Finalizing the First-Ever Standards to Directly Reduce methane Emissions from New and Modified Sources

For new, modified, and reconstructed sources, EPA is finalizing a set of commonsense standards that will reduce methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and toxic air emissions in the oil and natural gas industry. The new standards cover hydraulically fractured oil wells and equipment that has not been covered by prior emission standards for this sector. They also require owners and operators to find and repair methane leaks.  Every leak that is fixed means more natural gas is available to be used or sold. The final rule is stronger and more flexible than the proposal.

Notably, the program to detect and repair leaks has been strengthened. First, compressor stations, which are large sources of emissions, will need to find and repair leaks on a quarterly basis, twice as often as in the proposed rule. And second, an exemption from the leak detection for low-producing wells that was included in the proposal has been removed.

At the same time, the leak detection program is more flexible – it includes provisions that will allow companies to use innovative technologies to monitor for emission leaks. This is key to ensure that the standard announced today is a smart, and sensible regulation that can adapt as the industry evolves.

Collectively, the standards are expected to reduce the equivalent of 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2025. The standards will also have meaningful public health benefits, including decreasing the likelihood of asthma attacks, emergency room visits, and premature death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes.

Taking the First Step in the Process to Reduce Emissions from Existing Sources

To begin that process, we are taking a critical step today in issuing a draft Information Collection Request (ICR) for public comment, which launches EPA’s work to address methane emissions from existing sources. Once finalized, the ICR will require companies with existing operations to provide specific information that will enable EPA to assess different regulatory approaches to reduce methane emissions from these sources. And along with these methane reductions will come additional reductions of harmful VOCs and air toxics.

EPA will receive data from the operator survey later this year and conclude all aspects of the ICR in the first part of 2017.

Since technology in the oil and gas industry is developing rapidly, the EPA also plans to issue a voluntary request for information to gather the broadest possible set of information on innovative, cost-effective strategies to locate, measure, and mitigate methane emissions.

In the coming months, EPA will also release final emission guidelines to reduce VOC emissions from existing oil and gas sources in areas where smog is at unhealthy levels. And later this summer, EPA will release final rules to reduce methane emissions from landfills.

These commonsense steps will help to combat climate change and reduce air pollution that harms public health. They will also make sure that the oil and gas industry can continue to operate safely and responsibly as an important source of energy for American communities.