WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s administration unveiled rules on Wednesday to slash methane emissions from oil and gas production by up to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025, its latest move to solidify the Democratic president’s credentials on climate change.
The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior proposed steps to contain leaking potent methane, the second biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, from new drilling equipment and from old and new production facilities on public lands.
Environmentalists welcomed the announcement but some chided the administration for focusing on methane emissions from new production rather than existing sources. Industry groups said the regulations were unnecessary.
The United States is the leading oil and gas producer in the world thanks to the spread of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking. Officials said while emissions from the sector are down 16 percent since 1990, they are set to rise 25 percent between now and 2025 if left unabated.
Methane represented nearly 10 percent of U.S. climate-warming emissions in 2012.
Under the proposal, the EPA will issue a draft rule this summer, and a final rule will follow in 2016.
The White House said it did not have clear estimates of the price tag associated with the proposals.
“We’re confident that we can do this in a cost-effective way,” said Dan Utech, Obama’s top climate and energy adviser.
Utech said the administration focused on new sources because that was where “new investment and growth are occurring.”
Measures could target different aspects of oil and gas production, including well completions and well-site leaks.
The proposal is designed to help the United States a goal unveiled by Obama in China last year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The announcement is part of a rollout of proposals before Obama’s State of the Union address next week.
Climate change has become an increasingly important part of White House efforts to cement Obama’s legacy in his final two years in office. Republicans oppose many of his efforts.
Environmental groups said the plan was a good first step but some were disappointed after a months-long campaign for more stringent rules.
“This is a landmark moment” but more clarity is needed, said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, which launched an ad campaign for new rules.
Failing to tackle existing sources misses 90 percent of methane emitted by industry, which could not be trusted to make voluntary cuts, green groups said.
“The administration is proposing to fight methane pollution with one hand tied behind its back, not using the full range of powers under the Clean Air Act to cut these emissions,” Conrad Schneider, advocacy director of the Clean Air Task Force, said.
Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the proposal was an important start but it fell short of being the “powerful follow-up” to the White House’s other recent climate policy moves.
Industry groups also criticized the plan, arguing that new measures were not needed because the sector’s voluntary actions have already led to a methane decrease and because they also face rules in different states.
“We are disappointed the administration is choosing to take a regulatory approach that will take years to implement, rather than a cooperative approach with the industry that we believe will ultimately result in greater emissions reductions in a shorter time frame,” said Marty Durbin, president of the American Natural Gas Alliance.
Among parts of the package, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management will update decades-old standards this spring for new and existing wells on public lands to tackle venting, flaring and leaks of natural gas, which is comprised mostly of methane, from oil and gas wells.
The EPA also said it will continue to “promote transparency and accountability for existing sources” by strengthening its program to require industry to report its greenhouse gas emissions.
Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Jeff Mason; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Leslie Adler