A new government-wide strategy to understand and possibly reduce emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, was announced by the White House late last month. The strategy focuses on methane emissions from landfills, agriculture, coal mines, and oil and natural gas activities. It could eventually lead to limits on methane emissions from drilling and production operations.
The Administration estimates in the strategy document that methane is responsible for about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The largest methane emitter is agriculture, with a slightly more than one-third share of the total, according to the White House. Oil and natural gas operations generate about 28% of U.S. anthropogenic methane emissions. Of this share, 80% comes from natural gas activities.
The strategy calls for the Administration to develop a series of white papers discussing technical issues, such as sources and control technologies for methane emissions from oil and gas activities. Next, the Environmental Protection Agency will determine what, if any, regulatory authority it has to control these sources. If EPA decides to regulate, it will begin rule-making with an aim to complete the work by the end of 2016, just as President Barack Obama will be leaving office.
To date, EPA has been unwilling to directly regulate methane emissions from U.S. oil and gas operations. However, Colorado and other states are actively considering such regulations.