On March 28, the White House announced a set of new policy initiatives to reduce emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas (GHG) 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. The Climate Action Plan—Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions (Methane Plan) (available here) outlines the administration’s plans for new regulations, voluntary efforts and measurement technology to reduce and track methane emissions . Methane comprises about 9 percent of all GHG emissions. Data suggest that methane — the primary constituent of natural gas — has significant potential for cost-effective recovery because it is a vital energy source and prevention of uncontrolled methane emissions thus has value beyond merely preventing global warming. According to the administration’s plan, while methane emissions have decreased 11 percent since 1990, more efforts are needed because uncontrolled methane emissions are expected to increase in the coming years. The Methane Plan identifies agriculture as the single largest emitter of methane at 36 percent, followed by natural gas systems at 23 percent, landfills at 18 percent, coal mines at 10 percent, petroleum systems at 6 percent and wastewater treatment at 2 percent. The top three sources — natural gas systems, agriculture and landfills — comprise nearly 80 percent of anthropogenic methane emissions. The Methane Plan identifies a series of actions over the next two years to reduce emissions.
Natural Gas Systems: The administration is likely to pursue a major new regulatory initiative to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. EPA estimates that 34 percent of total methane emissions from the sector come from transmission and storage, 31 percent from production, 20 percent from distribution and 15 percent from processing. The new initiative will begin in the spring of this year with a scientific assessment of methane sources within the sector followed by a series of EPA regulatory white papers in the fall of 2014. New regulations will be completed by the end of 2016, and likely will focus on oil and co-producing wells, liquids unloading, leaks, pneumatic devices and compressors. The EPA also will continue voluntary efforts to reduce methane emissions through the Natural Gas STAR program. Finally, the administration is proposing a new $4.7 million DOE program to identify technologies to detect, monitor and repair methane leakage from pipelines and compressors, advanced pipeline inspection technologies. The White House is calling for greater investment in cost-effective methane measurement technology to improve the accuracy of data. The DOE’s ARPA-E program will focus future funding rounds upon technologies that can reduce the cost of methane sensing, perceived to be a barrier to measurement of methane releases throughout natural gas systems.
Landfills: The EPA will propose new standards in the summer of 2014 for newly constructed landfills and will consider ratcheting-down standards for existing landfills, which were issued in the mid-1990’s under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act. The EPA also will continue to promote landfill gas-to-energy projects and reduction and recovery of food waste.
Agriculture: The EPA is not proposing new regulations for the agriculture sector but will produce a “Biogas Roadmap” in June 2014, to encourage dairy farmers to use methane digesters. Financial assistance for farmers to install digesters also will continue through various USDA programs.