CLIMATEWIRE | President Joe Biden pledged to use “all available tools” to rein in methane when he was elected three years ago.
Now his promise is coming due.
Federal agencies are poised to release a battery of rules in the coming months that crack down on the oil and gas sector for releasing the potent greenhouse gas. That includes regulations for leaky pipelines; energy production on public and private lands; and infrastructure related to processing, transporting and storing natural gas. Even liquefied natural gas terminals and offshore petroleum production facilities, which aren’t covered by EPA’s coming methane rules, could find themselves paying for excessive leaks beginning in 2025.
That’s on top of other methane efforts. The Energy and State departments are creating guidelines to distinguish relatively climate-friendly fuel producers and exporters from their more high-emitting competitors. And the Securities and Exchange Commission and federal procurement agencies are readying rules that would require publicly traded companies and government contractorsto report on direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, from their supply chains.
Curbing the gas responsible for almost a third of today’s global warming could contribute to Biden’s climate legacy. And it might also buy the world valuable time to solve the more intractable problem of phasing out carbon emissions.
“There’s a recognition that cutting methane is one of the fastest, best ways to reduce pollution that’s contributing to climate change,” said Paul Billings, national senior vice president for public policy at the American Lung Association. “The technology is available, and it’s highly cost-effective.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Methane traps more than 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide on a 20-year time scale. But it exits the atmosphere and stops contributing to warming after about 12 years, compared with centuries for CO2. And it comes from much fewer sources.
A report by the International Energy Agency last month showed that it would be impossible to prevent temperatures from surpassing 1.5 degrees Celsius without rapidly reducing methane leaks from fossil fuel production and use.
“Reducing methane emissions today can generate near-immediate climate benefits, providing room for the longer-term transition to a clean energy economy,” the White House noted in a November 2021 methane road map.
Hana Vizcarra, a senior climate attorney with Earthjustice, said it makes sense that the Biden administration is going all-in on methane. It comes after the Obama administration laid the groundwork for methane regulation, and as corporations maintained momentum through the presidency of Donald Trump with a steady stream of voluntary commitments.
“In some ways, it’s an easy place to start because there’s a lot of information and a lot of support for action,” Vizcarra said.
Arvind Ravikumar, co-director of the Energy Emissions Modeling and Data Lab at the University of Texas at Austin, said the rise of advanced methane monitoring attracted policymakers’ attention.
“The thing that is catalyzing all of this is that the technology and innovation have advanced so rapidly in the past decade or so that it is now very cheap to monitor and measure methane emissions from oil and gas applications,” he said, noting that the Environmental Defense Fund and other groups plan to launch a satellite next year to track methane and release the data publicly.
“Emissions data is now going to be democratized as never before,” said Ravikumar. That is driving discussions about how the market can differentiate between fuels with relatively lower or higher supply-chain emissions, he said.
The White House is currently reviewing EPA’s final rule to limit emissions from new and existing oil and gas production, processing, transport, and storage facilities. The measure builds on an Obama-era new source standard that the Trump EPA scrapped in favor of laxer rules covering fewer sources.
The Senate voted in June 2021 to reinstate the Obama standard. But the Biden rules would greatly expand coverage with guidelines for infrastructure built before 2015.
The methane rule would be the first important Biden climate regulation to become final. That’s expected to happen next week on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in Dubai, United Arab Emirates — likely at the Dec. 2 methane summit the U.S. will host with China and the UAE.
EPA will follow it with final climate rules for power plants and vehicles in the coming months. The administration is under pressure to print its final rules in the Federal Register in early 2024 to prevent a potential Republican president and Congress from using a Congressional Review Act resolution to undo them in 2025.
Also, the Bureau of Land Management is working on a rule to curb gas leakage from production on federal lands; the move would replace an Obama-era standard that was scrapped by the Trump administration. The BLM rule was projected to be final in September but has yet to enter White House review.
Other facets of Biden’s methane strategy are the product of recent legislation.
The Department of Transportation is crafting a rule for pipeline leak detection and repair under 2020 legislation. That’s also in extra innings — the administration’s regulatory agenda indicated it would be final in July.
And EPA is writing regulations prescribed by the Inflation Reduction Act and its myriad methane-control incentives and the excess emissions fee. The draft rule for the methane fee entered White House review in September.
The Inflation Reduction Act ordered EPA to overhaul its time-worn guidelines for how oil and gas companies estimate and report methane from their operations after a decade of research showed emissions were being undercounted. One recent report by energy nonprofit RMI found that gas has higher life-cycle climate emissions than coal when leak rates are fully considered.
EPA released its proposal in July, and it’s due to be final early next year. The methane fees will be based on those new reporting methodologies.
The Treasury Department’s upcoming guidelines for how “green” hydrogen will qualify for a generous Inflation Reduction Act tax credit will also grapple with upstream leak rates from gas used in its production. Treasury missed the climate law’s August deadline but is expected to issue the guidance by the end of the year.
And the Energy and State departments are working with the European Union — the world’s largest gas importer — and with other countries on international standards that will give low-methane gas preferential access to the EU market. The U.S., the European Commission and others launched a working group last week to build a shared framework to measure and report greenhouse gas emissions from gas.
The EU also last week finalized the bloc’s first standards for fossil fuels methane that include import requirements.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and China agreed last week to include methane reduction in all future climate commitments made under the Paris Agreement. It came after China unveiled a long-awaited methane plan earlier this month that would strengthen procedures for tracking, reporting and verifying leakage from oil, gas and coal production.
Jon Goldstein, senior director of regulatory affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund, said the wave of U.S. regulations would pave the way for more global progress on methane abatement.
“Strong standards from the United States are a very important signal,” he said. “They help set the realm of the possible for the rest of the world.”
The U.S. oil and gas industry has come around to supporting EPA methane regulation in recent years. But petroleum trade groups are eyeing the influx of domestic and international methane policies with trepidation.
A coalition spearheaded by the American Petroleum Institute told EPA last month in public comments that it should work with other federal agencies to “harmonize” methane policies.
Dustin Meyer, API’s senior vice president of regulatory affairs, in an email to E&E News called it “critical that policymakers coordinate these complex rulemakings to ensure regulatory incoherence doesn’t stand in the way” of energy supply.
Reporter Heather Richards contributed.
Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2023. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.