EPA Announces Historic Plan to Regulate Methane Emissions

In an historic announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency says it will be implementing restrictions on methane gas emissions — the first time the greenhouse gas has ever been regulated in the United States.

Methane is often overlooked in favor of carbon dioxide, when it comes to discussion surrounding greenhouse gas emissions. In reality, methane, though the way it interacts with the earth’s atmosphere differs in key ways from that of carbon dioxide, it is just as harmful, if not more so.

Though methane does not persist in the atmosphere nearly as long as carbon dioxide, its heat-trapping capacity is almost 30 times higher.

As hydraulic fracturing (or, fracking, as it’s often called) continues to boom in the United States, concerns have loomed over how much methane from natural gas wells is leaking, unintended, into the atmosphere.

In 2014, fracking sites were found to be releasing far more methane than expected. A survey of well sites in Pennsylvania by Purdue University found wells releasing between 100 and 1,000 times the amount of methane expected. It is not a stretch to say this would likely be found in many other fracking sites across the country.

This is why the EPA’s plan to reign in these destructive methane emissions has not come a moment too soon. Though this rule only applies to modified or new methane gas wells, the EPA says it plans to author regulations for existing wells after further study.

With this new rule alone, there will be over half a million fewer tons of methane emissions by 2025. When regulations for existing wells are implemented, the EPA expects overall emissions to drop up to 45 percent by then as well.

Methane isn’t going to be the only gas affected by these regulations. The EPA estimates it will mean the release of 210,000 fewer tons of volatile organic compounds (known for their role in forming ozone) and nearly 4,000 fewer tons of air toxins. Both ozone and toxins like benzene or toluene have been linked to a wide range of health issues, including asthma, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Unsurprisingly, the fracking industry has been quick to critique the announcement, decrying alterations made since the rule’s original announcement in August. Costs to comply with the EPA will be $530 million annually by 2025 — almost 25 percent more than expected. Though that may sound like an undue burden, by the EPA’s numbers, climate benefits are expected to be $690 million yearly — arguably, a good deal.

The regulation of methane simply makes sense. With an estimated 1.7 million gas wells in the United States — over half a million of which are in use — the EPA’s moves are long overdue.

Regulating methane emissions is arguably one of the easiest paths to curbing the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. While the EPA’s new rule is historic, it should serve as a first step toward further regulation across all aspects of the natural gas collection and transportation process.

Photo Credit: Ingram Publishing / Thinkstock

46 comments

william Miller
william Miller3 years ago

thanks

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld3 years ago

A recent study found that increasing methane levels are not due to fracking. The study concluded, "Currently increasing methane levels are caused not by fossil fuel production but rather by wetlands or, more likely, agriculture."

http://energyindepth.org/national/new-nasa-study-undercuts-epa-finds-fracking-not-to-blame-for-increased-methane-emissions/

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Peggy B.
Peggy B3 years ago

As more and more countries, cities, states implement solar and wind energy there will be less and less need for any of these polution makers.

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Alex H.
Alex H3 years ago

Hi, what people need to come to grips with is the fact that one third of methane emissions are coming from the millions of meat animals on the planet. Try going meatless for a couple of days a week. However, the continuing fracture of the earth's crust for gas and the subsequent leaking into the atmosphere is one of the worst environmental violations happening to our finite world today. What are these vandals thinking ? Greed and desperation to get what resources are left ?!

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld3 years ago

Rosalyn,
We had a river catch fire in the U.S. some 40 years ago. Since then, environmental rules have been enacted to clean up our waterways. FYI if a river is ablaze, it is not caused by methane.

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Rosslyn O.
Rosslyn O3 years ago

I found this interesting as I have read about methane gasses compared to carbon. Every one is too focused on carbon emissions, to add a smoke screen to the methane horrors. We have a river on fire in Qld Australia, but the politicians are doing their utmost to keep it out of the media.....!

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Brian F.
Brian F3 years ago

Fracking needs to be banned like it is in France and New York state. Rooftop solar alone could produce 40% of the nations electricity, and wind and large solar power plants, could supply the rest, so it's way past time to drop natural gas as a bridge fuel. It's a shame Bernie Sanders who opposes fracking, won't be elected. Hillary fully supports fracking.

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Chad Anderson
Chad A3 years ago

Finally!

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Leia P.
Leia P.3 years ago

Awesome

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