EPA Rules Aspire To Slash Oil Industry Methane Emissions

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The Obama administration proposes to cut methane emissions from oil and gas production by nearly half over the next decades. The rules won't be finalized until shortly before Obama leaves office.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news we're tracking this morning - President Obama's administration is making another move against gases linked to climate change. This month, as you may have heard, the administration approved limits on carbon dioxide from power plants. And now comes a move against methane, which is an even more potent contributor to climate change. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The oil and gas business is responsible for about 30 percent of methane emissions from human activities in the U.S., according to the EPA. That's why the agency wants new rules to limit how much methane is released during oil and gas production. Among the new requirements, drillers would be forced to capture more of the methane-rich natural gas that comes off oil wells that employ hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Mark Brownstein with the Environmental Defense Fund calls the EPA's proposed rules...

MARK BROWNSTEIN: ...An important down payment on the national commitment to reduce oil and gas methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent over next 10 years.

BRADY: President Obama set that goal in his plan to address climate change. These new restrictions on the oil and gas business accomplish just a small fraction of that - probably about 5 to 10 percent, says Brownstein.

BROWNSTEIN: This new proposal applies to new sources; that is, things that have yet to be built and sources that may be modified.

BRADY: The new rules do not apply to existing wells and pipelines that leak methane. Brownstein says those sources will have to be addressed later. Even though these regulations affect only new or modified projects, the oil industry does not like them. Howard Feldman with the American Petroleum Institute says the EPA already was regulating leaks under another rule. And he says the agency set up a voluntary program to reduce methane emissions. He says more regulation is a bad idea.

HOWARD FELDMAN: And that will only raise the cost of producing oil and gas, the cost that industry faces, and that will affect America's competitiveness in the global economy.

BRADY: Feldman says the industry is reducing methane emissions on its own because companies want to sell that gas rather than let it escape into the air. But the industry has a mixed track record on this, especially when the gas is a byproduct of more lucrative fossil fuels like oil. The new rules EPA announced yesterday are just a proposal. The agency will collect public comments and final rules are expected before President Obama leaves office in January 2017. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.