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EPA will demand oil and gas to slash methane emissions nearly in half

On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce an unprecedented attack on methane emissions from the country’s oil and natural gas industry, according to sources familiar with the regulations.

As a part of President Barack Obama’s climate policy, the EPA will propose cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels over the next decade. Neither The Wall Street Journal nor The Huffington Post name the person familiar with the plan. However, the EPA did make announcements in January that aimed at setting up the nation’s first ever methane emission regulations.

The new potential policy comes only a few weeks after the president unveiled the Clean Power Plan which set strict limits on emissions from coal-fired power plants. Under this plan, carbon emissions from this sector must meet a 32 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2030.

Energy leaders are sure to push back against the regulations. With the inevitable new expenses needed to capture the escaping emissions, companies will have to work with already restricted budgets due to slumping oil prices. In addition, methane emissions happen at numerous stages in oil and gas production. No one sector, up or down stream, would be solely responsible.

Yet, according to EPA studies from late last year, only a small number of natural gas wells are responsible for the majority of the methane gas being released into the atmosphere during production. The reduction of methane, in such a case, would be less of a spread out burden for the industry. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found in one test that methane releases into the atmosphere were the lowest in the Rocky Mountain region and the highest along the Gulf Coast.

These emissions estimated to be among the largest sources of methane in the natural gas supply chain come from faulty, outdated or misused pneumatic devices. These devices use gas pressure to control the opening and closing of valves and emit gas when they operate. Experts report that at each well site in the U.S., one to three of these devices is in use.

Methane emissions from oil and gas producers has decreased by 12 percent since 2011, with the most substantial reductions coming from hydraulically fractured wells. During the same time period, emissions from wells decreased by 73 percent.

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