Biden tightens methane emissions rules amid push for more oil

By Matthew Daly and Seth Bornstein, The Associated Press

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 energy producers to drill for more oil to lower prices. at the gasoline pump.

On Friday, Biden was set to announce a supplementary rule to eliminate emissions of methane – a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming and carries an even stronger short-term impact than carbon dioxide – while attending the global climate conference in Egypt.

The new law issued by the Environmental Protection Agency comes on the heels of the methane rule that Biden announced last year at the United Nations climate summit in Scotland. The 2021 rule targets emissions from existing oil and gas wells nationwide, rather than just focusing on new wells as previous EPA regulations did.

The new rule goes further and targets all drilling sites, including smaller wells that emit less than 3 tons (2.7 metric tons) of methane annually. Small wells are currently undergoing initial screening but are rarely checked again for leaks.

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

Hours before the president is scheduled to speak at the international climate summit, White House National Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi said Friday at the climate negotiations in Egypt, the Biden administration will embark on a “relentless focus on rooting out emissions wherever we find them.”

Oil and gas production is the country’s largest industrial source of methane, the primary component of natural gas, and a major goal of the Biden administration in its quest to combat climate change. The United States is among more than 100 countries that have pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030 from 2020 levels.

“We must lead by example when it comes to tackling methane pollution – one of the biggest drivers of climate change,” said Michael Reagan, director of the Environmental Protection Agency, who is also in Egypt to participate in the climate talks. He said stronger new standards would “enable innovative new technology to thrive while protecting people and the planet.”

“Our regulatory approach is very strict from the point of view of timing and strictness,” Reagan said at a press briefing in Egypt, and the old and new rules should be able to prevent more than 80% of energy waste, about 36 million tons (32.6). million metric tons) of carbon emissions.

Leaks from wells and pipelines are why former Vice President Al Gore and others call natural gas a “bridge that leads nowhere.” In an interview with The Associated Press, Gore said, “When you do the math, a 2 to 3% methane leak completely negates the climatic advantage of methane. And tragically, the land animals that do most hydrologic fracking don’t pay attention to the methane leak. You have A leak in the LNG (liquefied natural gas) process, you have a leak in the pipelines, you have a leak in use.”

The supplement rule comes as Biden accused oil companies of “war profiting” and raised the prospect of an unexpected tax on energy companies if they do not boost domestic production.

Biden has repeatedly criticized the oil majors for making record profits in the wake of the Russian war in Ukraine, while refusing to help bring down 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 do not invest some of their record profits to cut costs for American consumers.

Along with the EPA law, the new Climate and Health Act passed by Congress in August includes a methane emissions reduction program that would charge energy producers fees beyond a certain level of methane emissions. The fee, which is set to rise to $1,500 per metric ton of methane, marks the first time the federal government has directly imposed a fee or tax on greenhouse gas emissions.

The law allows exemptions for companies that comply with EPA standards or fall below a certain emissions limit. 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 repairing natural gas leaks.

Multiple studies have found that smaller wells produce only 6% of the country’s oil and gas but account for up to half of methane emissions from well sites.

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

Darren Schroeder of the Clean Air Task Force said the draft rule is “a welcome sign that reducing methane emissions is a top priority for the EPA.”

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

However, oil and gas companies have asked the Environmental Protection Agency to exempt hundreds of thousands of the nation’s smallest wells from upcoming methane bases.

The US Exploration and Production Council, which represents the largest independent oil and gas companies in the US, said it appreciates the changes made by the Environmental Protection Agency as the base was developed, but still has concerns to make it truly workable. “We will continue to work with the Environmental Protection Agency to find meaningful solutions,” said Ann Bradbury, group CEO.

Daly reported from Washington.

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