The Biden administration recently unveiled its final rules aimed at addressing the pressing issue of methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas industry. These rules, which have been in development for two years, were announced by U.S. officials at the United Nations COP28 climate change conference in Dubai. The main objective of these regulations is to crack down on methane releases, which significantly contribute to climate change. This article provides a critical analysis of the Biden administration’s final rules and explores their potential implications and effectiveness.
Methane, a greenhouse gas, tends to leak into the atmosphere unnoticed from drill sites, gas pipelines, and other oil and gas equipment. Given its higher warming potential than carbon dioxide and faster atmospheric breakdown, addressing methane emissions becomes crucial in mitigating climate change. The United States, along with other participating nations at the summit, aims to achieve a 30% reduction in methane emissions from 2020 levels by 2030, as pledged by 150 countries worldwide.
The newly announced rules by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intend to help the nation meet its international commitments in aggressively tackling climate change. EPA Administrator Michael Regan emphasized that these standards not only align with the nation’s climate goals but also improve air quality across the country. The policies implemented by the EPA have significant implications for the oil and gas industry. They include banning routine flaring of natural gas from newly drilled oil wells, mandating oil companies to monitor and prevent leaks, and establishing a program to detect large methane releases from “super emitters” using third-party remote sensing.
The new methane rules have gained praise from several environmental groups. Jill Tauber, the vice president of litigation for climate and energy at Earthjustice, emphasized the importance of strong methane standards in curbing climate pollution and ensuring the safety of workers and communities near extraction sites. The rules are expected to prevent an estimated 58 million tons of methane from reaching the atmosphere between 2024 and 2038, which is equivalent to all the carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector in 2021.
According to the EPA, the implemented regulations will yield significant climate and health benefits, estimated at up to $7.6 billion annually through 2038. They will also enhance the recovery of natural gas, potentially amounting to $13 billion over the specified time period. Notably, the final rules differ slightly from the draft proposals released by the EPA in 2021 and 2022. Some adjustments have been made, such as granting the industry more time to comply and modifying the Super Emitter Program to ensure third-party information on methane leaks is verified directly by the EPA.
The American Petroleum Institute (API), a trade group representing the oil and gas industry, has expressed its intention to review the finalized rules. Dustin Meyer, API’s senior vice president of policy, economics, and regulatory affairs, stressed the need for a balanced approach that simultaneously addresses emissions reductions and meets rising energy demands. The industry has voiced concerns about the power given to environmental groups in the verification process of methane leak information.
The Biden administration’s final rules to curb methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas industry represent a significant step towards achieving the nation’s climate goals. By addressing this potent greenhouse gas, the administration aims to make a positive impact on limiting climate change and improving air quality. While the rules have received praise from environmental groups, the industry is cautious and raising concerns about the need to maintain a balance between emissions reductions and energy demands. As these regulations are implemented and enforced, their effectiveness and actual impact will become clearer, allowing for a more comprehensive evaluation of their success in curbing methane emissions.