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U.S. proposal would cut methane emissions sharply

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration issued a final rule Thursday to sharply cut methane emissions from U.S. oil and gas production, a key part of a push by President Barack Obama to reduce methane emissions by nearly half over the next decade.

The rule by the Environmental Protection Agency is the major element of an administration goal to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas drilling by up to 45 percent by 2025, compared to 2012 levels. It will require energy producers to find and repair leaks at new or modified oil and gas wells and capture gas that escapes from wells that use the common drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Methane, the key component of natural gas, tends to leak during oil and gas production. Although it makes up just a sliver of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, it is far more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, making it a top target for environmentalists concerned about global warming.

Officials estimate the rule will cost the industry about $530 million in 2025. Those costs would be outweighed by reduced health care costs and other benefits totaling about $690 million, officials estimate.

EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said the new rule would “protect public health and reduce pollution linked to cancer and other serious health effects while allowing industry to continue to grow and provide a vital source of energy for Americans across the country.”

The mandate, which will take effect this summer, will apply only to new and modified sources, such as wells, pumps, pipes and compressors, but it will set a framework for the EPA to impose similar requirements on nearly 1 million existing wells and other equipment nationwide.

The methane rule follows a landmark regulation Obama finalized last year to cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants by 32 percent. The plan, the centerpiece of Obama’s climate change strategy, has drawn legal challenges from power companies and dozens of Republican-led states.

Even as oil and natural gas production has risen dramatically, methane emissions have fallen, thanks to new technologies that have reduced waste and improved efficiency, industry officials said.

“It doesn’t make sense that the administration would add unreasonable and overly burdensome regulations when the industry is already leading the way in reducing emissions,” said Kyle Isakower, API vice president of regulatory and economic policy.

Rachel Richardson, director of the Stop Drilling program for Environment America, another advocacy group, called the new rule a step forward, but said it “falls short of what’s needed to avert climate disaster.”


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