Energy

EPA Targets Fracking With New Global Warming Rules

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

The Obama administration has released new regulations on methane emissions from oil and gas drilling as part of the president’s effort to show the U.S. is serious about tackling global warming ahead of the United Nations climate summit this year.

The EPA has proposed rules for oil and gas wells that will cut 340,000 to 400,000 short tons of methane emissions in 2025. The agency is also proposing methane rules for hydraulically fractured, or fracked, wells along with gas “transmission” equipment in the downstream sector of the energy industry.

“Today, through our cost-effective proposed standards, we are underscoring our commitment to reducing the pollution fueling climate change and protecting public health while supporting responsible energy development, transparency and accountability,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement.

The EPA’s first-ever methane regulations for oil and gas build upon existing voluntary standards that have been in effect for years. Interestingly enough, those standards, combined with efficiencies in oil and gas drilling, have helped drastically reduce methane emissions from drilling.

Domestic oil production has nearly doubled (same thing with natural gas production) since 2005, but methane emissions have only risen by half as much, according to the Wall Street Journal. Fracking proponents argue this regulation is simply a way for environmental regulators to clamp down on fracking.

“President Obama’s methane regulations are a solution in search of a problem. Methane is essentially natural gas, a valuable product that provides heat and electricity to millions of American families and businesses,” Tom Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, said in an emailed statement.

“Companies are already reducing methane emissions on their own because they are responsible, and to do otherwise would be leaving money on the table,” Pyle said. “This regulation is an attempt to stymie that production by driving up production costs and creating more hoops for American producers to jump through.”

But the EPA warns methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and the U.S. needs to clamp down on its release as natural gas becomes a more prominent part of our fuel supply. Indeed, the EPA’s new power plant regulations will force hundreds of coal-fired electric generators to retire — most of which will be replaced by natural gas power plants.

“Cleaner-burning energy sources like natural gas are key compliance options for our Clean Power Plan and we are committed to ensuring safe and responsible production that supports a robust clean energy economy,” McCarthy said.

EPA methane rules come just months before United Nations delegates are set to meet in Paris for this year’s climate summit. President Obama wants to walk away from this year’s summit with an international deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but to do that the White House believes it needs to prove to other major economies, like China, that it’s serious about fighting global warming.

“If I can encourage and gain commitments from the Chinese to put forward a serious plan to start curbing their greenhouse gases, and that then allows us to leverage the entire world for the conference that will be taking place later this year in Paris,” Obama told VICE News in an interview.

Obama has already gotten greenhouse gas emissions pledges from China and Brazil, though they are vague and would still allow these countries to use lots of coal-fired power. The president hopes these agreements will convince other countries to join in on cutting emissions.

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