Biden to announce more restrictions on methane emissions amid push for more oil

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — The Biden administration is stepping up efforts to curb methane emissions, targeting the oil and gas industry for its role in global warming, even as President Joe Biden has pressed producers energy to increase oil drilling to lower prices at the gas pump.

Biden was due to announce an additional rule Friday clamping down on emissions of methane — a potent greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming and has a stronger near-term impact than even carbon dioxide — as he attends a world climate conference in Egypt.

The new Environmental Protection Agency rule follows a methane rule announced by Biden last year at a United Nations climate summit in Scotland. The 2021 rule targets emissions from existing oil and gas wells nationwide, rather than focusing only on new wells as previous EPA regulations have done.

The new rule goes further and targets all drilling sites, including small wells that emit less than 3 tons (2.7 metric tons) of methane per year. Small wells currently undergo an initial inspection, but are rarely rechecked for possible leaks.

The proposal also requires operators to respond to credible third-party reports of high-volume methane leaks.

A flare to burn methane from oil production is seen at a well near Watford City, North Dakota, August 26, 2021. The Biden administration is stepping up efforts to curb methane emissions, targeting the oil industry and gas for its role in global warming even as President Joe Biden has pressured energy producers to drill more oil to drive down prices at the gas pump.

AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File

The Biden administration will embark on “a relentless focus to eradicate emissions wherever we can find them,” White House national climate adviser Ali Zaidi said Friday during climate talks in Egypt. hours before the president is due to speak at the international climate summit.

Oil and gas production is the nation’s largest industrial source of methane, the main component of natural gas, and is a key target for the Biden administration as it seeks to tackle climate change. The United States is among more than 100 countries that have committed to reducing methane emissions by 30% by 2030 from 2020 levels.

“We need to lead by example when it comes to tackling methane pollution, one of the biggest drivers of climate change,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan, who is also in Egypt for the climate talks. The new, stricter standards “will allow innovative new technologies to thrive while protecting people and the planet”, he said.

“Our regulatory approach is very aggressive in terms of timing and rigor,” Regan said during a briefing in Egypt. The old and new rules are expected to avoid more than 80% of energy waste, or about 36 million tonnes (32.6 million metric tons) of carbon emissions, he said.

Leaks from wells and pipelines are why former Vice President Al Gore and others call natural gas “a bridge to nowhere.” In an interview with The Associated Press, Gore said, “When you do the math, a 2-3% leak of methane completely negates the climate benefit of methane gas. And, tragically, the wildcats who do most of the hydrofracking pay no attention to methane leaks. You have leaks in the LNG (liquefied natural gas) process, you have leaks in pipelines, you have leaks in use.

The additional rule comes as Biden has accused oil companies of “war profiteering” and raised the possibility of imposing a windfall tax on energy companies if they fail to increase domestic production.

Biden has repeatedly criticized big oil companies for making record profits from Russia’s war in Ukraine while refusing to help lower prices at the pumps for the American people. The Democratic president suggested last week that he would look to Congress to impose tax penalties on oil companies if they failed to invest some of their record profits to cut costs for American consumers.

In addition to the EPA rule, the new Climate and Health Act approved by Congress in August includes a methane emissions reduction program that would impose a charge on energy producers who exceed a certain level of emissions by methane. The charge, which is expected to rise to $1,500 per metric ton of methane, marks the first time the federal government has directly imposed a charge, or tax, on greenhouse gas emissions.

The law allows exemptions for companies that meet EPA standards or fall below a certain emissions threshold. It also includes $1.5 billion in grants and other spending to help operators and local communities improve monitoring and data collection of methane emissions, with the goal of finding and fixing natural gas leaks. .

Several studies have shown that small wells produce only 6% of the country’s oil and gas, but account for up to half of wellsite methane emissions.

“We can’t leave half the problem on the table and hope to get the reductions we need to secure and protect local communities from pollution,” said Jon Goldstein, senior director of regulatory affairs for oil and gas. to the Environmental Defense Fund. .

The oil industry has generally welcomed direct federal regulation of methane emissions, preferring a single national standard to a hodgepodge of state rules.

Even so, oil and gas companies have asked the EPA to exempt hundreds of thousands of the nation’s smallest wells from upcoming methane rules.

Daly reported from Washington.

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