Obama to move to cut methane emissions

EPA regulations are not just for coal anymore, emphasizing that fracked methane pipelines are not the answer: how about we go straight to sun and wind power? Today we’ll see how serious president Obama is about methane emissions. Meanwhile, there’s already an opportunity to comment on an EPA methane rule proposed in December.

Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, 13 January 2015, Barack Obama moves to cut methane emissions by almost half: Environmental Protection Agency will cut oil and gas industry methane emissions as president seeks to bolster climate legacy,

The new methane rules “ which will be formally unveiled on Wednesday—are the last big chance for Obama to fight climate change.

The Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to cut methane emissions by up to 45% from 2012 levels by 2025, White House officials told campaigners during a briefing call.

But it was not clear whether the new rules would apply to existing oil and gas installations, in addition to future sources of carbon pollution, which could weaken their effectiveness in fighting climate change.

“It is the largest opportunity to deal with climate pollution that this administration has not already [been] seized,” said David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air programme at the Natural Resources Defence Council.

Methane is the second biggest driver of climate change, after carbon dioxide. On a 20-year timescale, it is 87 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas.

US officials acknowledge that Obama will have to cut methane if he is to make good on his promise to cut US greenhouse gas emissions 17% from 2005 levels by 2020, and by 26% to 28% by 2025.

“It is the largest thing left, and it’s the most cost-effective thing they can do that they haven’t done already, and all the signs are there that they intend to step forward on that,” Doniger said.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to roll out a combination of regulations and voluntary guidelines for the oil and gas industry, people familiar with the plan said.

Back in March 2014, the White House published CLIMATE ACTION PLAN — STRATEGY TO REDUCE METHANE EMISSIONS, but there’s a problem in the first sentence:

Reducing methane emissions is a powerful way to take action on climate change; and putting methane to use can support local economies with a source of clean energy that generates revenue, spurs investment, improves safety, and leads to cleaner air.

Methane is, according to the EPA, 20 times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Pipelines leak, take property, destroy the environment, and the investment spur is for LNG export for fossil fuel company profit. That actual March plan mainly depends on the fossil fuel industry itself to do any reductions, with state regulators and PHMSA as oversight. We’ve seen how well the Florida Public Service Commission oversees pipelines, when it approved Sabal Trail and rejected an appeal because the appellants weren’t FPL customers. We’ve seen how well PHMSA regulates, as in it mostly lets the companies “self-regulate”, resulting in exploding oil trains and the Christmas Eve Pittsburgh pipeline explosion. And we’ve seen how well that works with FERC, 100% funded by those same industries it regulates, only ever denying two pipelines, neither of them stand-alone pipelines.

But that March report did at least acknowledge part of the problem:

Today, methane accounts for nearly 9 percent of domestic greenhouse gas emissions. And although U.S. methane emissions have decreased by 11 percent since 1990, they are projected to increase through 2030 if additional action is not taken. As a key element of the Climate Action Plan, this strategy outlines new actions to reduce methane emissions. These actions will improve public health and safety while providing more energy to power our communities, farms, factories, and power plants. These steps will also make an important contribution to meeting the Administration goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. While the elements of the strategy will be further fleshed out in the coming months, Administration estimates show that steps along these lines could deliver greenhouse gas emissions reductions up to 90 million metric tons in 2020.

Maybe today we’ll see some further fleshing out that will go beyond that modest goal, maybe even by requiring pipeline projects to prove they won’t leak.

Back to the Guardian story:

The US is now the world’s largest producer of natural gas, and is on track to become the world’s largest oil producer in 2015.

Most of those greenhouse gas emissions are from leaky equipment “ faulty casing on newly fracked wells, but also millions of miles of pipelines and ageing infrastructure.

The EPA had originally promised to announce a new methane plan by the end of last year.

The agency administrator, Gina McCarthy, indicated that the agency would combine regulations with voluntary guidelines for industry.

Unlike the power plant rules, which left industry a fair amount of latitude in cutting emissions, the methane standards are believed to be tightly focused on plugging leaks.

The new rules could directly target leaking valves and other equipment that allow methane to escape from wells, pipelines and other infrastructure.

The new rules could also be backed up with voluntary guidelines for other types of air pollutants that would also lower methane emissions.

“If you take steps to reduce volatile organic compounds, those steps would automatically have the secondary benefit of reducing methane emissions,” said Sandra Snyder, an environmental attorney at the Bracewell Giuliani law firm.

This may or may not be the proposed rule, Greenhouse Gas Reporting: 2015 Revisions and Confidentiality Determinations for Petroleum and Natural Gas Systems, posted 9 December 2014. That one explicitly includes compressor stations and transmission pipelines, such as the ones proposed by Sabal Trail, Williams Transco, and FPL, and there’s still time to comment on that rule.

Any methane emission regulations shine a spotlight on a glaring flaw of “natural” fracked methane pipelines and power plants: they require an explosive greenhouse gas as fuel.

Solar panels and wind turbines don’t leak because they don’t require fuel. No pipeline. Go solar. Go wind.


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