The Biden administration on Saturday announced finalized standards to limit the amount of methane that oil and gas companies can leak into the atmosphere, saying the move will “turbocharge” climate action in the U.S.
The announcement, made at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai, also known as COP28, will require emitters to eliminate routine flaring of natural gas in new wells over a two-year period, monitor for methane leaks, and establish new standards for high-emitting equipment like controllers, pumps and storage tanks that make up much of the infrastructure that transports oil across state lines.
Methane traps approximately 80 more heat than carbon dioxide. The top emitters of methane in the United States are oil and gas companies.
“These are rules of the road,” said Ali Zaidi, the Biden administration’s national climate adviser. There is no excuse for these emissions to continue proliferating. Industry has the tools. The industry has the tools. And it has every incentive to get after this challenge.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the new standards will reduce future methane emissions by 80%, going beyond what was projected in similar proposals from 2021 and 2022. It targets hundreds of thousands of existing sources, as well as significant sources of other health-harming air pollutants.
Companies that do not comply or are found to be violating the standards risk EPA action.
The oil and gas industry is heavily reliant on technology for monitoring their sites. The plan encourages companies to adopt “innovative technologies” like aerial screening, satellites and sensor networks that can help find leaks and repair them more quickly.
“What this standard does is build strong accountability around using this technology, and taking advantage of what it offers in terms of economic and environmental gains,” Zaidi said. “It provides a line of sight to scaling these solutions, and in turn it will reduce the cost of deploying these solutions even more.”
An outside monitoring company will identify “super emitter” sites, which, according to the EPA, account for almost half of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. Those sites will take priority in curbing emissions, something the administration says is the fastest and cheapest way to reach U.S. emissions goals.
“This will allow us to get the technologies very quickly to these areas, which will curb emissions almost immediately,” Zaidi stated. “So that obviously has a climate benefit, but it also has real material benefits for local communities for public health that will be felt right away.”
The EPA also said the plan would prevent an estimated 58 million tons of methane emissions from 2024 to 2038, the equivalent of 1. 5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, and will yield total net benefits of $97 billion to $98 billion from 2024 to 2038, after taking into account the costs of compliance and savings from recovered natural gas.
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