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EPA Can Quickly Cut Dangerous Methane Pollution from Oil and Gas Industry in Half, According to New Report

Study Shows EPA Has Clear Path to Curb Major Climate Pollutant and Other Harmful Emissions with Common Sense, Low-Cost Measures


A new report from leading climate advocates today shows how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can cut climate warming methane pollution in half, while dramatically reducing harmful, wasteful air pollution from the oil and gas industry at the same time, by issuing federal standards for methane pollution based on available, low-cost technologies and practices.

The oil and gas sector is the largest U.S. industrial emitter of methane, which is the primary constituent of natural gas and the second-biggest driver of climate change after carbon dioxide. Smog-forming and toxic chemicals that leak from oil and gas sites along with methane also harm air quality, endangering the health of people in neighboring communities.

"Waste Not: Common Sense Measures to Reduce Methane Emissions from the Oil and Natural Gas Industry, " shows how EPA can fulfill its responsibility under the Clean Air Act to cut methane pollution from the entire oil and gas industry by issuing performance standards for methane emissions. Standards based on the technology and practices reviewed in this report could cut methane pollution from the sector by half -- saving enough gas to heat at least 3 million homes.

A Report Summary encapsulating the report's findings was released today by co-authors Clean Air Task Force, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club. Earthjustice, Earthworks and Environmental Defense Fund have also reviewed the report and support its recommendations for EPA standards for methane emissions. The full report with technical recommendations will be available later this fall.

Under the Obama Administration's Climate Action Plan, the "Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions" specifically directs EPA to assess methane emissions from the oil and gas industry and determine whether to set federal standards under the Clean Air Act to reduce these emissions. After the release of several technical "white papers" this spring assessing methane control measures, EPA is expected to decide on whether to issue methane standards this fall.

Most of the industry's methane pollution comes from leaks and intentional venting that can be identified and curbed with existing, low-cost technology and better maintenance practices. This report zeroes in on the biggest sources of methane emissions in the sector and identifies the readily available control measures: finding and fixing leaks, controlling emissions from compressors and other equipment, and stopping the venting of methane from wells.

The methane standards recommended in the report would cut up to 10 times more methane and up to four times more smog-forming pollutants than alternative approaches, because methane standards would apply to oil and gas infrastructure across the country, not just to equipment located in selected areas.

"This is the most significant, most cost-effective thing the administration can do to tackle climate change pollution that it hasn't already committed to do," said David Doniger, Director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Curbing the dangerous methane pollution leaking from the oil and gas industry is critical to meeting the nation's climate protection targets. Along with cutting carbon pollution from power plants and vehicles, these practical steps are the one-two punch we need to stave off the worst effects of a disrupted climate."

Methane warms the climate at least 80 times more than an equal amount of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. While the nation emits fewer tons of methane than of carbon dioxide, the potency of methane makes its impact on the climate huge. About 25 percent of the warming we are experiencing today is attributable to methane emissions. Taking steps to address methane, in addition to carbon pollution, is critical to combating climate change.

"The most effective way to solve the climate crisis is to keep all dirty fossil fuels, like fracked gas, in the ground, because even the most rigorous methane controls will fail to do what is needed to fight climate disruption," said Deb Nardone, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Natural Gas campaign. "Fracking threatens to transform our most beautiful wild places, our communities, and our backyards into dirty fuel industrial sites, so in the short term the EPA must work quickly to control methane from existing fracking operations, close the exemptions that allow the oil and gas industries to benefit at the cost of our health, prevent future leasing of our public lands, and advance truly clean energy like wind, solar, and energy efficiency."

The report also shows how the same measures that cut methane pollution in half can reduce cancer-causing and smog-forming air pollutants that are released from the sector alongside methane by approximately 14 to 22 percent, respectively.

"This report makes clear that it's time for EPA to take common-sense steps to protect people and the environment from methane pollution caused by oil and gas operations," said Earthjustice attorney Tim Ballo. "Ending wasteful leaks is an important step towards solving the pollution problems that the oil and gas industry is creating for communities nationwide."

"Issuing an oil and gas methane rule gives the Obama Administration the opportunity to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction target," said Conrad Schneider, Advocacy Director for Clean Air Task Force. "This rule will provide more than 100 million metric tons of greenhouse gas reductions, every ton of which will be necessary to meet this commitment. Doing so can help confirm the U.S.'s credibility that we fulfill our climate promises."

"Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas pollutant but you don't have to be an environmentalist to know that methane leaks are simply a waste of a valuable national energy resource," said Mark Brownstein, Associate Vice President for U.S. Climate and Energy, Environmental Defense Fund. "The good news is that there are simple technologies and practices that the oil and industry can use to substantially reduce this waste, creating new opportunities for American companies and new jobs for American workers."

The Report Summary can be found here.

Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.