Methane (CH4), the main component of natural gas, is the second most prevalent GHG emitted globally. It has a higher global warming potency but shorter shelf life: methane is more than 80 times more warming than carbon dioxide over 20 years. While it usually gets second billing to CO2’s long term impacts and prevalence in the fossil fuel-based economy, capturing methane emissions can spur shorter term emissions reductions that those typically pledged in the Paris Agreement over the 2025, 2030, and 2050 timelines.
President Obama has set a goal for reducing US methane emissions and so EPA has made it, carbon emissions, and HFCs the focus of its 2016 agenda. Fugitive emissions from aging oil and gas infrastructure from a small number of oil and gas facilities in the US produce most of the methane leaks. Leftover fluids from hydraulic fracturing have some of the highest levels of methane.
The EPA expects a rule on methane leaks from new oil and gas sites to be finalized this spring. The Agency is also working on a methane rule for existing wells (that will not be finalized during the Obama Administration), starting with an Information Collection Request that requires drillers to provide information on methane leaks to the EPA. Said McCarthy, “That is a very large signal about our commitment to move toward regulating the existing sources, in the oil and gas sector, of methane.”
Recently more than 40 US energy companies agreed to voluntarily reduce their methane emissions. The EPA announced the launch of its Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program. Its mission: to provide “a platform for Partners to showcase their efforts to reduce methane emissions, improve air quality, and capture and monetize this valuable energy resource.Duke Energy and National Grid signed on to the program.” The program’s March 2016 launch was in conjunction with 41 corporate partners, including Duke Energy, Excel Energy, and National Grid.
Methane is also the focus of current Canada-US bilateral action. President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau agreed last month to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 45% below 2012 levels by the year 2025.