Monday, January 25, 2016

Obama administration proposes regulations to limit methane gas flaring at drilling sites

"The Obama administration on Friday proposed new rules to clamp down on oil companies flaring natural gas on public land, arguing the effort will reduce waste and harmful methane emissions as part of President Barack Obama’s bid to curb climate change," Matthew Daly reports for The Associated Press. The "rule is part of the Obama administration’s target to cut methane from oil and gas drilling by 40 to 45 percent by 2025, compared to 2012 levels." One of the problems with the proposal is that the federal government has limited authority over the practice, with most oil and natural gas operations regulated at the state level.

The Government Accountability Office recently released a report that "said 40 percent of methane gas being burned or vented could be captured economically and sold," Daly writes. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell "said the new rule will modernize decades-old standards to reflect existing technologies, allowing companies to use captured natural gas to generate power for millions of homes and businesses. Between 2009 and 2014, enough natural gas was lost through venting, flaring and leaks to power more than 5 million homes for a year, she said."

Jewell also said that "the new rule also should generate millions of dollars that can be returned to taxpayers, tribes and states while reducing pollution," Daly writes. "Most of the gas being burned at drilling sites is methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, although it does not stay in the air as long. Methane emissions make up about 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to government estimates."

While environmentalists have pushed for stronger regulations, "the oil industry has argued that new regulations are not needed for methane because the industry already has a financial incentive to capture and sell natural gas," Daly writes. "Methane emissions have been reduced by 21 percent since 1990 even as production has boomed, according to the Western Energy Alliance, an industry group."

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