How the US, oil industry plans to drastically cut methane emissions

ByStephanie Ebbs, Julia Jacobo and Kelly Livingston ABCNews logo
Sunday, December 3, 2023

The U.S. government and the oil industry have announced plans to drastically reduce emissions of methane, one of the most dangerous greenhouse gas emissions, due to its heightened ability to raise global temperatures.

The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP28, is currently underway in Dubai, where 50 major oil and gas companies have agreed to a deal that will reduce methane emissions to .2% by 2030.

The announcement was made on Saturday by the Environmental Defense Fund and COP28 President-designate Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, who also serves as CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp explained that the deal, dubbed the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Compact, requires these companies to reduce their methane emissions by about 80% to 90% within the next five years while submitting monitoring records to an international verification body.

"In the last year, we've seen really dramatic and grave effects of climate change," Krupp told ABC News. "So it's refreshing to see today from COP28, good news -- not that we've solved climate change --there's way more that needs to be done, but we're dramatically reducing the most potent greenhouse gas: methane."

The Biden administration has also put in place finalized standards to slash methane and other harmful air pollutants from the oil and natural gas industry on Saturday. The rule, announced by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan and Biden administration National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi, aims to prevent an estimated 58 million tons of methane emissions from 2024 to 2038 -- the equivalent of 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide and nearly as much as all the carbon dioxide emitted by the power sector in 2021.

"Today has been a huge day for progress on climate change -- probably the biggest in my 30 plus years in terms of the impact that today's announcements will have on the temperature we'll see over the next 10 years," Krupp said.

The series of new regulations for oil and gas companies include a comprehensive suite of pollution reduction standards that address the largest sources of methane and other harmful pollutants at oil and gas facilities, including methane that leaks or is vented from equipment and processes, according to the EPA.

The final rule will phase in a requirement to eliminate routine flaring of natural gas that is produced by new oil wells and require comprehensive monitoring for leaks of methane from well sites and compressor stations. It also establishes standards that require reductions in emissions from high-emitting equipment like controllers, pumps, and storage tanks.

In addition to methane emissions reduction, the new standards will prevent 16 million tons of volatile organic compounds from 2024 to 2028, along with 590,000 tons of toxic air pollutants like benzene and toluene, according to the EPA.

The rule will promote the use of cutting-edge methane detection technologies by leading oil and gas-producing states and companies, leveraging "the latest cost-effective, innovative technologies and proven solutions" in order to achieve such drastic emissions, according to the EPA.

Methane, considered a "super pollutant," is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in how much warming it can contribute to the atmosphere over time, according to the EPA. Methane is responsible for approximately one-third of the warming from greenhouse gases occurring today.

"Methane is responsible for about a quarter of the global warming we're now experiencing," Krupp said. "And it's really important that we speed up reductions in carbon dioxide as well as dramatically cutting methane."

With the new rule in place, by 2030, the expected reductions are expected to be equivalent to 130 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in that year alone, or more than the annual emissions from 28 million gasoline cars.

"We've crafted these technology standards to advance American innovation and account for the industry's leadership in accelerating methane technology," Regan said in a statement. "Thanks to robust public feedback and engagement with states, Tribes, companies, and organizations, we are finalizing this historic action to reduce climate pollution, protecting people and the planet."

Reducing methane emissions is seen as one of the most tangible and quick-acting wins in climate change, as it would yield quicker benefits than reducing CO2 emissions.

"Methane is an incredibly potent global warming pollutant, and driving down methane pollution is a key enabler of desperately needed near-term climate progress," Julie McNamara, deputy policy director with the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told ABC News in an emailed statement. "Moreover, deep reductions in methane pollution are eminently achievable today -- if only policymakers act."

Last month, China unveiled an action plan to incorporate methane reductions into its national climate plan for the first time.

The announcement by the Biden administration "marks a vitally important step curtailing a major source of methane pollution, McNamara said, emphasizing that the oil and gas industry remains the nation's largest source of industrial methane emissions.

However, these actions are still not enough, she said.

"Every source of methane pollution must be held to account -- and fossil fuel producers must be held responsible for all the ongoing climate and health harms their products cause," McNamara said.

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