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White House Announces Methane Regulations Overhaul

, Shale Plays Media

The Obama administration announced today it would implement new strategies targeted at reducing methane emissions from sources such as landfills, ranches and oil and natural gas extraction.

The announcement is the latest in a series of recent plans by the executive branch to begin addressing concerns over climate change without relying on congress for legislation. Though not intended to cause sweeping changes individually, the administration hopes they will have a heavier collective impact, building support for further reform and demonstrating America’s serious intentions to the international community.

President Obama has pledged to reduce the US’s greenhouse gas emissions to below 2005 levels by 2020, and according to his Assistant for Energy and Climate Change Dan Utech, this methane strategy is one component of the overall plan to reach them.

Environmentalists have encouraged the White House to target methane for some time. Most of the United States’ greenhouse emissions are in the form of carbon dioxide, with methane accounting for just 9 percent of all releases. But methane is more than 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide, which means even small release reductions can have a big impact.

Methane emission projections have also risen sharply thanks to improved hydraulic fracturing technology and the resulting boom in oil and natural gas production. An article in the February issue of the journal Science reported that methane was leaking from drilling sites and pipelines at 50% higher rates than previously estimated.

Though he is targeting the emissions of natural gas production facilities, President Obama has tended to support its production, since it only releases about the half the amount of greenhouse gas as coal when used as a power source. Environmental advocates have argued that lax emissions regulations could cancel out this ecological benefit, while the industry has argued that too much regulation will cripple production.

Among Friday’s proposed methane reduction plans:

The Department of the Interior will update regulations for flaring excess gas on public lands.

The Bureau of Land Management will look into beginning methane capture and resale from coal mining operations on federal land.

Starting in the summer, the EPA will propose new standards designed to reduce methane emissions from landfills and gauge public support for their implementation.

The EPA will also work with the Energy Department to promote the use of machines called methane digesters, which reduce total emissions from cattle ranching.

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