How The EPA Plans To Cut Methane Emissions From Oil And Gas Wells

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first-ever federal regulations to curb methane emissions from oil and gas producers. The proposed rule aims to cut methane emissions from the energy industry, the single largest emitter of methane in the United States, by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels within the next decade.

Methane is a greenhouse gas 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide over a 20 year period, and is often leaked during oil and gas extraction, degrading air quality while driving climate change. Methane is also vented by some operations.

Tuesday’s proposed action focuses on new hydraulically fracked oil and gas wells. It would “require methane and VOC [volatile organic compound] reductions from hydraulically fractured oil wells, some of which can contain a large amount of gas along with oil, and would complement the agency’s 2012 standards addressing emissions from this industry,” according to an EPA factsheet.

However, according to a new study released today, natural gas gathering and processing plants leak much more methane than producers have reported, and even more than the Environmental Protection Agency has estimated.

Researchers at Colorado State University found that U.S. gathering and processing facilities — where natural gas from nearby wells is consolidated for distribution through pipelines — leak 2,421,000 metric tons of methane each year. The facilities emit 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas every year, roughly eight times the amount previously estimated by the EPA.

Gathering facilities “could be responsible for something like 30 percent of emissions for all natural gas production,” the study’s lead researcher, Anthony Marchese, said.

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