California Leads on Reducing Methane Emissions from Oil & Gas Operations

by | Feb 11, 2016

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California took a big step forward to reduce emissions of potent, heat-trapping methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. Joining states like Wyoming, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, California is proposing strong but sensible rules to control methane across the oil and gas supply chain – from production to transmission.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that oil and gas operations are responsible for about 30% of annual U.S. methane emissions, making them the largest industrial source of methane pollution. Pound for pound, methane can cause up to 87 times more warming than carbon dioxide, so reducing emissions of this short-lived but powerful greenhouse gas is crucial to fighting climate change. And given that methane is the primary component of natural gas, controlling emissions also makes sense for industry because every molecule that is not leaked is a molecule that can be sold.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has been developing these rules for several years as part of its multifaceted strategy to achieve the goals of AB 32, California’s landmark greenhouse gas emission reduction program. The latest draft adds important clarifications and updates, including rules directly responding to the ongoing, disastrous natural gas leak at the Aliso Canyon underground storage facility in Porter Ranch.

Crucially, these proposed rules would apply to both new and existing emissions sources. Oil and gas equipment and facilities already in operation will be responsible for the vast majority of future methane emissions – one study found that by 2018 almost 90% of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector will come from sources that were already in operation in 2011.

It’s a no-brainer that if we want to be serious about controlling methane emissions, then any rules must apply to existing sources. Unfortunately at the national level, although EPA has put in place and proposed important new rules that will apply to new sources of emissions, it has not yet put forth a plan to regulate existing sources. There’s no way to meet President Obama’s goal of cutting methane pollution from the oil and gas industry 40-45% from 2012 levels by 2025 without controlling emissions from existing sources, which is why we and our partners are calling on EPA to do just that.

CARB’s proposed rules will apply to major sources of emissions throughout the supply chain, including separators, storage tanks, well stimulation treatments, compressors, pneumatic devices and pumps, underground gas storage facility wells, and liquids unloading. The rules will also require operators to perform periodic surveys to look for leaking equipment. CARB estimates that these new rules can significantly reduce methane emissions from the covered sources.

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