The EPA will limit methane emissions from existing oil and gas facilities — a huge move by the federal agency, announced in conjunction with President Obama’s meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday.
The new rule will help the two countries achieve their goal of cutting methane emissions from oil and gas by 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025.
“The two leaders regard the Paris Agreement as a turning point in global efforts to combat climate change and anchor economic growth in clean development,” the White House said in a statement. “They resolve that the United States and Canada must and will play a leadership role internationally in the low carbon global economy over the coming decades.”
The EPA will start the formal process of developing the rule next month, while Canada expects to have a proposed rule in 2017. On a call with reporters Thursday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the agency will start work immediately. The first step will be requiring oil and gas companies to provide information on their methane emissions.
“It’s a really complex industry with hundreds of thousands of emissions sources,” McCarthy said. When asked whether the new rule would be able to move forward before the end of Obama’s term, she said the agency “will do whatever we can to move forward in reductions of greenhouse gases from all sources.”
Environmentalists have been calling for methane emissions reductions for years. A previously announced rule by the EPA covered only new oil and gas facilities — this new addition will greatly increase expected reductions from the sector.
Without it, by 2018, almost 90 percent of the methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas sector would have come from infrastructure built before 2011, the Environmental Defense Fund had estimated.
“[The new rule] continues this country’s leadership in addressing climate in a meaningful way,” McCarthy said.
The rise in fracking has dramatically increased methane emissions across the country. In fact, while natural gas is often touted as a clean energy source because it emits less carbon when burned than coal does, studies show that methane leaks have completely erased any climate benefit of transitioning to natural gas.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas — which makes up 80 percent of natural gas. While it breaks down faster than carbon dioxide, it traps heat 25 times more effectively than CO2 over a 100-year period, and 86 times more effectively over a 20-year period.
The Aliso Canyon Storage Facility leak in Southern California that began in October and lasted into February has been just one high-profile example of the country’s crumbing natural gas infrastructure. That leak, estimated to be the largest in U.S. history, added 97,100 metric tons of methane to the atmosphere.
“No credible plan to combat climate change can ignore methane emissions, which are the second largest industrial source of climate-changing pollution after power plants,” David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “We welcome the administration’s commitment to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to safeguard our communities and our planet. The danger is real and urgent and the Environmental Protection Agency must act without delay.”
The White House announced other joint initiatives with Canada on Thursday. The two countries will share technical information on emissions reductions, encourage other G20 countries to adopt guidelines on methane and vehicles, and focus on a number of Arctic goals, including support for indigenous communities and better environmental stewardship.