Obama Plans for New Methane-Emission Rules

January 15, 2015 Updated: January 15, 2015

The White House announced that it has set a goal of cutting down methane emissions in the oil and gas sector by 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025, and has tasked the Environmental Protection Agency with finalizing new rules for processing natural gas by 2016.

Methane gas only accounts for 9 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas carbon footprint, 9 times smaller than carbon dioxide emissions, but unit for unit it is 20 times more harmful to the environment than CO2 over a 100-year period.

Methane is 20 times more harmful to the environment than CO2 over a 100-year period, according to the EPA.

The new rules will set efficiency standards for oil and gas companies to cap the amount of natural gas they’re allowed to vent or leak from their pipelines, compressors, and other equipment.

The emission from the oil and gas sector has declined by 16 percent since 1990, but a transition from coal to natural gas plants had led a resurgence in emissions in the oil and gas sector, projected to rise 25 percent by 2025 unless efficiency standards improve.

The administration said it would set aside $10 million in the 2016 fiscal year to improve technology that quantifies greenhouse gas emissions, building on the “Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions” project from March of last year, which put $30 million towards developing methane-emission detection systems.

The EPA’s expansion of rules concerning carbon emissions has not gone unchallenged. In June of last year, the Supreme Court narrowly upheld the agency’s authority to curb greenhouse gas emissions from large power plants but restricted it from going after smaller polluters like schools or restaurants.

“When an agency claims to discover in a long-extant statute an unheralded power to regulate a significant portion of the American economy, we typically greet its announcement with a measure of skepticism,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the court’s decision.