Obama unveils US plan to lower methane emissions

28 March 2014 21:05 Source:ICIS News

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Methane emissions will be the next target of the US President Barak Obama's Climate Action Plan, according to the latest climate strategy released by the White House on Friday.

The Strategy to Cut Methane Emissions calls for federal agencies to help landfills, coal mines, agriculture and the petroleum industry reduce methane emissions. A combination of studies, voluntary programmes and regulations, the plan will not need congressional approval.

Methane emissions account for less than 9% of domestic greenhouse gasses (GHG). Each tonne of methane in the atmosphere has a global warming effect 20 times greater than a tonne of carbon dioxide, the strategy said.

Although reduced 11% since 1990, methane emissions are projected to increase through 2030 if no additional action is taken. The strategy aims to induce collaboration with industry, state, local and federal agencies to reduce methane emissions as the administration aims to reduce total GHGs to 17% below 2005 levels by 2025.

"Thanks to greater natural gas use, we have reduced energy-related emissions across the United States to 1994 levels. The natural gas community continues to invest in and refine operations to further reduce methane emissions," Marty Durbin, CEO of America's Natural Gas Alliance, said in a release.

Specific steps in the strategy include voluntary programmes to capture methane at landfills and coal mines, either for use as local fuel, sale or destruction. In the agriculture industry, the strategy calls for adoption of methane digesters to reduce emissions.

In the oil and gas industry, the strategy notes that it "builds on the success of voluntary programmes and targeted regulations".

“Safety is the top priority for natural gas utilities, and due to continuing efforts to modernise infrastructure and enhance pipeline safety, natural gas emissions are on a declining trend,” said American Gas Association (AGA) Chairman Gregg Kantor.

The strategy notes that 13 AGA members have been working with agencies to improve the measurement of emissions from natural gas distribution systems. Natural gas energy companies are also working to address technical and regulatory factors affecting emissions.

Emissions from utility-owned distribution systems has dropped 16% since 1990, as the amount of distribution and service lines increased by 30%, the AGA said in a statement.

Now the strategy directs the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assess significant sources of methane in the oil and gas industry, soliciting input from independent experts. The agency will expand voluntary efforts to reduce emissions and will complete additional regulations, if needed, by 2016.

In production fields, the strategy calls for the Bureau of Land Management to modernise outdated requirements regarding venting and flaring. A draft rule, Onshore Order 9, is expected later this year.

The strategy calls for continued pipeline monitoring for leaks and safety. The federal 2015 budget includes $4.7m for a programme to help develop technologies for leak detection and repair without evacuation, smart sensors and compression control.

Although the strategy is an "important step" in reining in public health risks, Sierra Club spokeswoman Deborah Nardone said that more must be done in the US to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and move toward clean energy like wind and solar.

"Required methane controls for the oil and gas sector are essential. However, even with the most rigorous methane controls and monitoring in place, we will still fall short of what is needed to fight climate disruption if we do not reduce our reliance on these dirty fossil fuels," she said.

By Jessie Waldheim