By Devin Henry - 05/12/16 10:48 AM EDT
The Obama administration on Thursday finalized a new rule designed to cut methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector, pushing a stronger standard than one proposed last summer.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) methane rule sets standards for methane leaks along the natural gas production line, including drilling and pumping, at new or modified wells.
The agency also said it is kicking off work on a rule for methane leaks at existing wells, but acknowledged that won’t come until after Obama has left office.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with more than 25 times the global warming potential than carbon dioxide. It’s the primary component of natural gas, and drillers warn regulations on methane will hurt an American natural gas boom that has upended the country’s energy sector.
The EPA’s new standards are stronger than those it proposed last summer. The rule, if fully implemented, will reduce 520,000 short tons of methane in 2025, or the equivalent of 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. The EPA’s proposed rule would have cut up to 400,000 short tons of methane.
The agency said it bolstered many parts of its proposal, including removing exceptions for low-producing wells, expanding leak monitoring and requiring quicker repairs for leaks.
“The common-sense steps we are rolling out today will help combat climate change and reduce air pollution that will immediately help improve public health,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said on Thursday.
Officials received more than 900,000 comments on the August proposal, which is a top plank of the administration’s climate goals.
President Obama pledged in last year’s Paris climate agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28 percent by 2025, and he and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this spring agreed to work together on reducing methane.
The agency will also begin collecting information from drillers on the best ways to cut down on methane leaks at existing drilling sites, something environmentalists have said is critical for further slashing methane emissions.
But McCarthy said that process will take a long time, and acknowledged the EPA won’t receive enough information to begin writing a new rule while Obama is in office.
“We’re going to move as quickly as we can to get the most comprehensive record we can for the next administration to rely on,” she said.
Drillers have warned government regulations on natural gas sites will hurt production in the United States, and have instead said they should take the lead on reducing emissions on their own.
Natural gas producers have a financial incentive for cutting down on methane leaks: more efficient drilling means putting more product on the market.
The American Petroleum Institute has previously noted the industry’s work to reduce methane emissions by 11 percent from 2005, and on Thursday said drillers themselves are “already leading the way” on methane leaks.
“Imposing a one-size-fits-all scheme on the industry could actually stifle innovation and discourage investments in new technologies that could serve to further reduce emissions,” API Vice President of Regulatory and Economic Policy Kyle Isakower said in a statement.
The EPA estimates the cost for drillers to comply with the rule will total $530 million by 2025, but that they will recover enough natural gas to make it worth their while.
“We continue to see this as enormously cost effective, and we also predict it will have very little impact in terms of the cost of natural gas and literally no impact on the cost of oil production,” McCarthy said.
Green groups were mostly pleased with the rule on Thursday. The Environmental Defense Fund said the rule is a “crucial way to slow the warming trend” of the Earth, and the Sierra Club said “the EPA and the Obama Administration are rejecting the status quo that has allowed the oil and gas industry to recklessly pollute communities around the country for so long.”
Earthjustice, which represents green causes in legal cases, said it “will defend this rule in court when the oil and gas industry tries to weaken it.”
The conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute hinted at potential legal fights over the rule.
“If these ‘commonsense standards’ for the EPA’s methane rule are anything like the ‘commonsense standards’ used for their power plant rules, we’re in for another long battle of correcting the agency’s mistakes,” said Myron Ebell, the director of CEI’s Center for Energy and Environment.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans immediately criticized the rule.
“This new set of rules will add significant burdens and costs to an already highly regulated industry,” top Energy and Commerce Committee Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said in a statement.
“Our economy is already on shaky ground, and more layers of federal regulation will only serve to threaten existing jobs and discourage new domestic production.”