The Biden administration on Tuesday announced plans to tackle emissions of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide that contributes significantly to global warming.
The announcement came on the president’s last day at the United Nations climate summit in Scotland, as world leaders unveiled an international deal to dramatically cut methane emissions. Negotiated by the United States and Europe, the deal would require countries to reduce their emissions by at least a third below 2020 levels by the end of this decade. So far, nearly 100 countries have signed the pledge.
The proposed rule could have a major effect on California. The state’s oil production has been declining since the 1980s. Fossil fuel companies, some of which have gone bankrupt, have left about 35,000 oil and gas wells idle. Many of these wells are disconnected, increasing the risk of methane or carcinogenic chemicals leaking.
In a brief speech on Tuesday, Biden called on countries to “go beyond” agreed cuts and urged more to sign. “There are more who can join – and should,” he said.
Despite being among the top methane emitting countries in the world, China, Russia and India have not joined the pledge. Neither Chinese President Xi Jinping nor Russian President Vladimir Putin is attending the conference in person. Both have sent emissaries.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also announced on Tuesday that European countries would propose new rules to reduce methane emissions, including requirements for oil and gas companies to measure and report their emissions and fix gas leaks. methane.
âWe cannot wait until 2050; we need to reduce emissions quickly. And methane is one of the gases we can reduce the fastest, âshe said. If countries keep their promises, she said, the additional pollution reductions that often accompany cuts in methane emissions could prevent 200,000 premature deaths and hundreds of thousands of asthma-related hospital emissions.
The rule proposed by the Biden administration follows weeks of growing frustration for the White House as Congressional Democrats struggle to bridge differences over climate and social policies. These disagreements have left Biden without a major legislative victory at home as he pushes for increased action on climate change internationally.
Central to the administration’s plans is a long-awaited new Environmental Protection Agency rule that, for the first time, would reduce methane emissions from around a million oil and gas wells across the country. country.
Some methane emissions occur naturally. But their largest industrial source in the United States is the country’s oil and gas industry. Its main trading group, the American Petroleum Institute, supported the Trump administration’s decision to rescind methane emission rules, although those regulations were later reinstated by Congress.
But even those previous regulations only applied to new wells drilled or modified after 2015, leaving more than 90% of the country’s wells unregulated. The new rule would extend those regulations so that methane leaks from old and new sources are covered.
According to the administration’s proposal, the EPA could continue to regulate emissions from new wells. Meanwhile, states would be required to develop their own methane rules for older wells that are in accordance with federal guidelines.
Calling the proposed rule “historic action,” EPA administrator Michael Regan said Tuesday it “will ensure strong and lasting reductions in pollution across the country.”
“As world leaders gather at this crucial moment in Glasgow for COP26, it is now quite clear that America is back and leading by example to face the climate crisis with bold ambition,” Regan said in a statement referring to the UN summit. The conference is expected to last two weeks, long after Biden and other government leaders return.
According to the EPA, the new rule, which would be established under the Clean Air Act, would reduce methane emissions by 41 million tonnes from 2023 to 2035, or the equivalent of 920 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide. That’s more carbon dioxide than what was emitted by all American cars and commercial planes in 2019.
This level of impact is possible because of the power of methane. A major component of natural gas, methane is 80 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere for the first 20 years after its release.
Scientists have estimated that methane is responsible for about a third of man-made global warming. They said reducing methane leaks – along with venting and “flaring” or burning natural gas – could be one of the fastest ways to slow climate change.
California could face significant challenges in implementing the proposed regulations. An investigation by The Times and the Center for Public Integrity in 2020 found that oil and gas companies had not set aside enough money to ensure these wells are plugged and that surrounding areas are safe for nearby residents.
Methane currently accounts for about 10% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, but that share is increasing as carbon dioxide pollution decreases. Earlier this year, state officials announced plans to put two satellites into orbit in 2023 to help them track down hard-to-find “super-emitters” of methane and carbon dioxide.
The Biden administration is also targeting methane emissions through regulations proposed by agencies other than the EPA.
The Ministry of Transportation is preparing to tighten methane regulations governing oil and gas pipelines in the country. The Home Office is working on rules that would limit the ability of companies to burn natural gas at drilling sites on public land. And the agriculture ministry plans to mitigate global warming by paying farmers to store carbon dioxide through better soil management and other techniques.