Fracking Industry’s Methane Emissions Targeted in New Regulations

May 12, 2016 Updated: October 5, 2018

President Barack Obama’s administration announced new regulations on May 12 forcing the oil and gas industry to reduce methane emissions.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, but the administration’s timetable shows it won’t expand the regulations wide enough to have a real impact before Obama leaves office.

Methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than Co2, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

It accounts for close to 11 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and about third of it is released to the atmosphere by the oil and gas industry. The industry’s methane emissions have also jumped 15 percent in the past 5 years—at least partially due to the expansion of the fracking industry. Fracking accounts for about half of current U.S. crude oil production, according to a March 2016 post by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, IHS Global Insight, and DrillingInfo
(Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, IHS Global Insight, and DrillingInfo)

The regulations will force the industry to make its operations more efficient and periodically check for leaks, so less methane gets into the air. 

The agency says this will save companies some money, because they can sell or use the preserved gas. But it is also expected to cost the companies over half a billion dollars in 2025.

One important caveat is that the regulations will only apply to new, modified, or reconstructed sources. It won’t apply to the existing production. The new regulations will most likely have the greatest impact on fracking, which has been expanding rapidly.

The agency expects the regulations to prevent half a million metric tons of methane emissions in 2025—a greenhouse-effect equivalent of 11 million metric tons of CO2.

And, comparatively, that’s not much.

It’s less than 5 percent of what the oil and gas industry released into the air in 2014.

Furthermore, methane released by the oil industry accounts for less than 4 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions of the nation.

That means the regulations will prevent less than 0.2 percent of the greenhouse gases the whole country released in 2014.

The agency plans to expand the regulations to existing sources and is starting a “general survey for all owners/operators” to do so.

But it expects the Information Collection Request phase will be done in the first part of 2017, when Obama will be out of the office already.

The industry representative considers the regulations superfluous.

“The industry is already leading the way on methane reductions because it is good for the environment and good for business,” said Kyle Isakower, vice president of Regulatory and Economic Policy at the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association of the industry.

“Imposing a one-size-fits-all scheme on the industry could actually stifle innovation and discourage investments in new technologies that could serve to further reduce emissions,” Isakower said in a press release.

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