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President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, walk off stage together during an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Thursday, March 10, 2016. (Photo: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Canada, US Unveil Plan to Slash Methane, But Where's the Fracking Ban?

Joint plan announced by Trudeau and Obama to achieve Paris climate agreement goals gets praise from environmental groups, but Arctic drilling still a concern

Andrea Germanos

Canada and the United States announced on Thursday joint plans to tackle climate change including slashing methane emissions—a decision welcomed by environmental groups who charge that President Barack Obama still has more steps to take to protect communities and secure a legacy as a climate leader.

The joint statement from the two nations says that Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "regard the Paris Agreement as a turning point in global efforts to combat climate change and anchor economic growth in clean development."

The plan includes cutting emissions of methane—a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide—from the oil and gas sector by 40-45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. Those emissions are "the world's largest industrial methane source," the statement reads.

It also advocates using a science-based approach to making decisions on further Arctic extraction, fostering the advancement of clean energy technology, and "adopting in 2016 a carbon offset measure that will allow for carbon neutral growth from international civil aviation." The statement adds:

Canada and the U.S. will align approaches, reflecting the best available science for accounting for the broad costs to society of the GHG emissions that will be avoided by mitigation measures, including using similar values for the social cost of carbon and other GHGs for assessing the benefits of regulatory measures.

Many environmental groups cheered the measures outlined by the leaders. Michael LeVine, Pacific senior counsel for Oceana, for example, welcomed what he saw as "vital steps toward a sustainable future for the Arctic region," while Natural Resources Defense Council president Rhea Suh said they "herald a new day in our cross-border partnership to combat dangerous climate change and transition to a cleaner and more prosperous economy."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency admitted last month what previous studies have pointed to—that the fossil fuel industry is emitting more methane than previously thought. And as methane is the main component of natural gas, the announcement targets the fracking boom—a point swiftly noted by the powerful American Petroleum Institute (API).

"Additional regulations on methane by the administration could discourage the shale energy revolution that has helped America lead the world in reducing emissions while significantly lowering the costs of energy to consumers," Bloomberg reports Kyle Isakower, API's vice president of regulatory and economic policy, as saying following the announcement.

Climate group 350.org, in contrast, welcomed the additional regulations, but stressed that the approach doesn't go far enough.

"A couple months ago, insiders said limiting methane pollution from existing fracking wells was politically unrealistic," 350.org's U.S. policy director Jason Kowalski stated. "But with the dangers of fracking front and center in the presidential campaign, and outrage around the Porter Ranch disaster shining a spotlight on fracking's worst effects, Obama couldn’t claim the mantle of climate leadership without tackling the industry's massive methane problem."

Yet, he added, "no amount of regulation can make fracking safe. Environmental groups and communities directly impacted by extreme extraction know the only way to protect people and our climate is to ban fracking and keep fracked gas in the ground."

Greenpeace USA, meanwhile, said that the proof of Obama's commitment to the agreement will be in the Arctic pudding.

The "agreement shows the U.S. and Canada are beginning to square their policies with the 1.5 degree target that global leaders acknowledged in Paris," said Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard. It also, she continued, "comes as the Obama Administration is considering a plan to put drilling in the Arctic—as well as in the Gulf of Mexico and even in new areas in the Atlantic—into play for oil companies."

"That will be a crucial first test for the commitments announced today," she said. "The clock is ticking for President Obama to secure his legacy as a consistent and clear leader on climate. Today's agreement between the U.S. and Canada is commendable only as a stepping stone toward a fully protected Arctic without fossil fuel extraction."


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