UPDATE (Jan. 22, 2016): Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its proposed rule to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas production on public and tribal land. The rule would contribute to the Obama administration’s strategy for cutting methane emissions while also reducing waste of this non-renewable resource.
Methane naturally occurs in oil wells and is released during the drilling process. Well operators can capture the gas at the well site and send it to processing plants where it is refined and sold as natural gas. But many operators instead burn the gas onsite (which causes air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions) or simply vent it. Methane has several times the global warning potential of carbon dioxide, so venting the gas significantly contributes to climate change.
Additionally, state, federal, and tribal governments lose out on royalty revenue when methane is vented or flared. In 2013, an estimated $330 million worth of methane was leaked, vented, or flared from federal and tribal lands – money that could have gone toward repairing infrastructure and improving schools.
The BLM rule would require operators to adopt available technology that would reduce flaring and venting while also correcting leaks in infrastructure. Additionally, it would establish guidelines for paying royalties to governments when gas is flared.
Unlike the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule, which only addresses new and modified sources, BLM’s rule would cover all new and existing oil and gas infrastructure. Existing sources, including wells, pipelines, and compressor stations, contribute 90 percent of the industry’s methane emissions.
We applaud BLM’s efforts to curb climate change and protect our natural resources.
UPDATE (Aug. 20, 2015): Earlier this week, the Obama administration announced its proposed rule to cut future methane emissions from oil and gas production. Methane contributes 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities that are warming the earth, so the rule is a step towards meeting our climate change targets.
However, disappointingly, the rule does not apply to existing wells, pipelines, refineries, and other infrastructure, which together contribute 90 percent of current total methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. The oil and gas industry produces almost a third of all methane emissions, so exempting existing facilities is problematic.
The rule also targets the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that pollute the air and contribute to smog formation, but as with methane, it only cuts them at new and modified oil and gas sources, and a limited number of existing sources.
Last week the, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to reduce methane emissions from landfills, which contribute nearly one-fifth of all U.S. methane emissions.
To date, however, there are only voluntary guidelines for limiting methane from the agriculture industry. Agriculture produces 36 percent of total methane emissions and is the single largest source of methane in the U.S.
On Jan. 14, the Obama administration announced its strategy to reduce oil and gas industry methane emissions by 40-45 percent over the next decade. This is a key element of the administration's Climate Action Plan for reducing greenhouse gases and curbing climate change.