The Obama Administration has taken more steps in their attempt to mitigate climate change. Going much further than anyone suspected, they have announced new commitments to limit the amount of methane emitted by the oil and gas sector. The new plan will require the industry to cut methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent of 2012 levels by 2025 through new measures designed to capture gas that escapes from oil wells, while at the same time finding and plugging leaks in pipelines.
With methane contributing to around 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2014, and the fact that it is by some estimates 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the planet over a 20-year period, the move has been welcomed by environmentalists. The new rules will only apply to new and modified oil wells, but even so, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) predict that the commitments will prevent the equivalent of 11 million tonnes of carbon dioxide being released.
“Today, we are underscoring the Administration’s commitment to finding common sense ways to cut methane – a potent greenhouse gas fueling climate change – and other harmful pollution from the oil and gas sector,” says Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the EPA. “Together these new actions will protect public health and reduce pollution linked to cancer and other serious health effects while allowing industry to continue to grow and provide a vital source of energy for Americans across the country.”
Obama and Trudeau both agreed to cut methane emissions, as well as carbon dioxide, when they met earlier this year. Susan Walsh/AP/Press Association
The new rules will mean that oil and gas producers will have to endeavor to find leaks in oil and gas pipelines and plug them, with quarterly inspection reports being completed. Nowhere has this issue of aging infrastructure and the potential for devastating leaks been more prominent than in southern California, where a leak at a gas storage site at Aliso Canyon spewed methane into the air for 16 weeks, making it the largest natural gas leak in U.S. history and causing the evacuation of thousands of families from local residential areas.
The commitment comes following the meeting of Obama and the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier in the year, in which they both agreed to cut methane emissions. Together, the two nations are the first- and fourth-largest producers of the gas, which is thought to account for a quarter of all global warming to date. This makes the announcement by Obama highly significant, even if they do admit that it is unlikely to come into force before he leaves office. The hope is that the legacy, and the strength he has shown to combat climate change, will persist even when he has gone.