WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday published the first U.S. regulations to reduce methane emissions from new or modified oil and gas facilities, one of the key remaining pieces of the Obama administration’s climate change strategy.
The final standards would reduce the equivalent of 11 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and cost companies $530 million in 2025. The agency said, though, that the rule will yield $690 million in “climate benefits.”
The steps are part of the Obama administration’s strategy to cut methane emissions 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025, the EPA said, and forms a key part of the U.S. plan to meet its Paris climate agreement pledge.
The rule, first proposed last August, outlines safeguards for preventing the escape of methane from new and modified oil and natural gas infrastructure, the largest source of those emissions in the United States.
The EPA also launched an “Information Collection Request” that requires companies to provide details about their existing oil and gas facilities from autumn 2016 until early 2017. This is the first step toward regulating existing sources, which accounts for 90 percent of U.S. methane emissions.
“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,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said.
Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide. Though it only lasts in the atmosphere for 20 years, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat.
“This is the ‘low-hanging fruit’ in greenhouse gas reductions,” said Conrad Schneider, advocacy director for the Clean Air Task Force, an NGO. “We need to pick it right away.”
Schneider welcomed changes to last year’s draft as the frequency with which companies must test for leaks from compressors was increased from twice a year to quarterly.
The rule also removes exemptions carved out for low-production wells, a significant move since “big emissions can be the result of a number of small sources,” said Mark Brownstein, vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund’s oil and gas program.
Industry groups criticized the EPA for adding a “duplicative” rule to a sector they say has already reduced methane emissions.
Imposing a one-size-fits-all scheme could stifle innovation and discourage investment in new technologies to reduce emissions, said Kyle Isakower, vice president of regulatory policy at the American Petroleum Institute.
Republicans in Congress said the EPA rules were too costly and vowed to challenge them.
“We will continue to review the legality and merits behind EPA’s regulatory bonanza, and the potential impacts on consumers,” said the leaders of the House energy committee in a statement.
The EPA will not complete the regulation targeting existing oil and gas sources before the end of the Obama administration, leaving the finalization of the rule making process to whoever wins the 2016 presidential election.
Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Marguerita Choy
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