The announcement came during a visit to Washington by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who also committed to tackling existing sources of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. | AP Photo
The Obama administration announced Thursday it would expand its regulation of the oil and gas industry, drawing cheers from environmentalists for the push to slash a potent greenhouse gas and condemnation from industry groups who said it would drive up energy costs.
EPA will begin writing rules to limit methane emissions from thousands of active oil and gas drilling sites around the country, but it will likely fall to Obama’s successor to complete the rules. A previously announced EPA regulation to limit methane from future drilling is on track to be completed this summer.
The announcement came during a visit to Washington by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who also committed to tackling existing sources of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. When complete, the regulations will go a long way toward meeting a joint U.S.-Canada target of cutting oil-and-gas methane emissions by at least 40 percent below 2012 levels by 2025.
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Oil and natural gas systems account for about 30 percent of U.S. emissions of methane, which warms the planet much more rapidly than carbon dioxide.
“No credible plan to combat climate change can ignore methane emissions, which are the second largest industrial source of climate-changing pollution after power plants,” David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.
The possibility of methane regulations for existing sources is certain to rattle the oil and gas industries. While individual companies have been working on their own to slash the potent greenhouse gas through a series of voluntary programs, EPA’s plans to finish rules for new sources of methane by May already has the industry fuming.
“The administration is catering to environmental extremists at the expense of American consumers,” American Petroleum Institute vice president Kyle Isakower said in a statement, arguing that the industry’s own voluntary efforts to cut emissions are already paying off.
EPA has less than a year before Obama leaves office to finish the methane rules for existing sources, a tight deadline that is likely impossible to meet. But both Democratic presidential front-runners support the expanded methane rules, making today’s announcement a potentially powerful step to expedite regulations under Obama’s successor — while a Republican president would likely kill the effort.
The administration is also wary of challenges to its rules under the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to overturn recently finalized regulations with a simple majority vote. The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has instructed agencies to finish their highest priority regulations by this summer to reduce their chance of being overturned if Republicans hold Congress and take the White House.
EPA’s first step toward regulating existing sources will come next month when it launch a formal “information collection request” aimed at better understanding how to cut methane emissions in the sector.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters on Thursday that the agency will begin reaching out to companies to gather information on available technology, cost and the various sources of methane along the production, gathering, transmission and storage segments of the oil and gas sector. She stressed that the agency would work closely with industry throughout the process.
McCarthy added that the end-result of the process will be “common sense, achievable standards.” But she would not commit to finalizing or evening proposing draft rules before Obama leaves office.
“We’re not at this point taking any options or tools off the table in terms of what else we might do this year. But we have no further announcement at this point,” she said.
Greens have been aggressively pushing for the existing methane rules for months, noting that they are likely the biggest remaining factor in determining whether the United States meets the target it committed to in Paris last year: cutting domestic emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
As part of their joint announcement, the U.S. and Canada said they would sign and join the Paris deal “as soon as feasible.” Both countries are widely expected to sign the agreement during a United Nations ceremony in New York City on Earth Day. The nations then need to take additional procedural steps to formally ratify it, but Obama can do that with his own executive authority.
Elana Schor contributed to this story.