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Greenhouse Gases

Biden proposes methane cuts at Glasgow climate conference

Effort will tackle primarily emissions from the oil and gas industry

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
November 3, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 41


Photo of US president Joe Biden seated at a table and speaking at a microphone with a sign saying "United States of America" in front of him. A second man, John Kerry, is seated behind him.
Credit: KIARA WORTH/COP26/UPI/Newscom
US president Joe Biden (front), supported by US envoy for climate John Kerry (back), spoke about plans to address climate change at an international conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 2.

Reducing emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is the goal of new proposals announced by the US on Nov. 2, during the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Methane, the primary compound in natural gas, is used as a fuel and chemical feedstock. It is responsible for 30% of the warming impact of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, according to a White House report released with the announcement.

US methane emissions come primarily from three sources: oil and natural gas production, landfills, and agriculture. Oil and gas are the largest single source, at 30%, and are thought to be the most cost effective to control. Some 75% of methane emissions could be covered by the proposal.

As part of the US proposal, the Environmental Protection Agency would update regulations to control emissions from new oil and gas facilities. And states, which regulate oil and gas production, would have to develop methane regulations for existing facilities. Currently, methane emissions from some 300,000 US oil and gas well sites are unregulated. Additionally, the Department of the Interior would launch a program to plug hundreds of thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells and to scale up efforts to clean up and reduce methane emissions from thousands of neglected coal mines.

The EPA’s proposal also calls for consideration of a community monitoring program to empower the public to detect and report large methane leaks. Overall, industry compliance could cost “pennies” on top of the price of a barrel of oil or thousands of liters of natural gas, the EPA says.

The proposal drew positive responses from nearly every sector, including tentative support from industries that would be regulated. However, several groups that support the proposal also worry about implementation and enforcement.

“For too long, we’ve known the damaging impacts of this potent heat-trapping pollutant, known that oil and gas operations continue to be a major source of it,” Julie McNamara, an official with the Union of Concerned Scientists, says in a statement. “There can be no more excuses: EPA must resist oil and gas industry efforts to delay and water down new standards, and act rapidly to strengthen, finalize, and enforce robust rules.”

The methane reduction plan was part of a series of climate announcements by President Joe Biden at the climate conference, including efforts to encourage clean energy, curtail methane pipeline leaks, and establish an international US- and European Union-led effort—called the Global Methane Pledge—to reduce global methane emissions by 30% by the end of the decade. Some 90 countries have signed on, according to the White House.



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