U.S. moves to cut oil well methane emissions

In the next step in its plan to lower global warming emissions, the Obama administration announced Tuesday proposed rules to reduce methane and volatile organic compounds from new oil and gas operations.

Methane, a key component of natural gas, is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas in the United States after carbon dioxide.  Yet its warming effect is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The rules would apply to an estimated 15,000 new wells by 2025. They include finding and repairing leaks and capturing natural gas from fracking wells. These efforts would help meet the administration’s target of cutting methane in the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent.

Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation acknowledged that this and other mandates account for about 20 to 30 percent of the national estimated emissions from this sector in 2012.

“We will continue working with industry and all the stakeholders who are interested to make sure we get at the president’s goal,” she said.

While environmental groups welcomed the new measures, the industry-backed Policy Resolution Group, said they will have a chilling effect on the nation’s energy renaissance, the U.S. economy and the significant progress already achieved reducing methane emissions in this sector.

The final rules will be released in two months, following a series of public hearings.

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