Biden rule aims to reduce methane emissions, targeting US oil and gas industry for global warming

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Saturday issued a final rule aimed at curbing methane emissions, attacking the U.S. oil and natural gas industry for its role in global warming as President Joe Biden looks to further his climate legacy.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the new rule will greatly reduce methane and other harmful air pollutants generated by the oil and gas industry, promote the use of advanced methane detection technologies and deliver significant public health benefits in the form of fewer hospital visits, school losses days and even deaths. Air pollution from oil and gas activities can cause cancer, damage the nervous system and respiratory system and contribute to birth defects.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan and White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi announced the final rule at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Oil and gas activities are the largest industrial source of methane, the main component of natural gas and much more powerful in the short term than carbon dioxide. It is responsible for about a third of global warming greenhouse gas emissions. Sharp cuts in methane emissions are a global priority to slow the pace of climate change and are a key topic at the climate conference known as COP28.

Presidents, prime ministers and royals from rich and poor countries have pledged to reduce the amount of heat-trapping gases in their countries and asked their counterparts to do better.

“On day one, President Biden restored America's critical role as a global leader in the fight against climate change,” Regan said, referring to Biden's actions to return the US to the Paris climate accord and order an immediate review of environmental regulations rolled back by the previous government. administration.

The methane rule completes a proposal that Biden made at a U.N. climate conference in Scotland in 2021 and expanded a year later at a climate conference in Egypt. The rule backs up Biden's initial commitments “with strong action, significantly reducing emissions of methane gas and other air pollutants that endanger communities,” Regan said.

The rule targets emissions from existing oil and gas wells across the country, rather than focusing only on new wells, as previous EPA regulations have done. It also controls smaller wells needed to detect and plug methane leaks. Small wells are currently subject to an initial inspection but are rarely re-checked for leaks.

Research has shown that smaller wells produce just 6% of the nation's oil and gas, but account for half of methane emissions from drilling sites.

The plan will also phase in a requirement for energy companies to eliminate routine flaring of natural gas produced by new oil wells.

The new methane rule will ensure the United States meets a goal set by more than 100 countries to reduce methane emissions by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030, Regan said.

The EPA rule is just one of more than 100 actions the Biden administration has taken to reduce methane emissions, Zaidi added.

“From mobilizing billions in investments to plug orphan wells, fix leaking pipes and reclaim abandoned mines, to setting tough standards that will reduce pollution from the oil and gas sector, the Biden-Harris administration is moving the full weight of the federal government to reduce harmful methane pollution,” he said.

The new methane rule will be coordinated with a methane tax approved in the 2022 climate law. The fee, which goes into effect next year, will charge energy producers that exceed a certain level of methane emissions as much as $1,500 per ton of methane. The plan marks the first time the U.S. government has directly imposed a fee or tax on greenhouse gas emissions.

The law allows exemptions for companies that meet EPA standards or fall below a certain emissions threshold. It also includes $1.5 billion in grants and other spending to help businesses and local communities improve monitoring and data collection and detect and repair natural gas leaks.

Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, called the new rule a victory for public health.

“EPA has heeded urgent guidance from health experts across the country and finalized a tough methane rule that, when fully implemented, will significantly reduce hazardous air pollutants and climate-warming methane pollution from the oil and gas industry,” he said in a statement. .

Methane has been shown to leak into the atmosphere during every stage of oil and gas production, Wimmer said, and “people living near oil and gas wells are particularly vulnerable to these exposure risks. This rule (is) vital importance for advancing environmental justice commitments.” .''

David Doniger, a climate expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called methane a “superpollutant.” He said in an interview that the Biden plan “tackles climate pollution very robustly. I wish this had happened 10 years ago (under the Obama administration), but I'm very glad it's happening now.”

Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said the new rule means “the U.S. now has the most protective methane pollution limits on the books. With other countries also focusing on methane as a key climate risk, this is a signal to operators around the world that it is time for a clean-up,'' he said.

The oil industry has generally welcomed direct federal regulation of methane emissions, preferring a single national standard to a hodgepodge of state regulations. Still, energy companies have asked the EPA to exempt hundreds of thousands of the nation's smallest wells from the coming methane rules.