Obama Orders Oil and Gas Industry to Slash Methane Emissions, but There’s a Catch

Cuts in the potent greenhouse gas will apply to new facilities, not those built during the fracking boom.

An oil rig burns methane gas. (Photo: Facebook)

Jan 14, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

President Obama is tackling climate change again. The White House announced its latest move on Wednesday, directing the nation’s oil and gas industry to cut methane emissions as much as 45 percent by 2025.

The executive action is an important step in the fight to suppress global warming because methane emissions, while lower than carbon dioxide emissions, trap more than 25 times more heat in the atmosphere.

Environmentalists welcomed the announcement, but some suggested that the mandate falls short by applying largely to new oil- and gas-industry facilities.

“While addressing new sources is a critical step, in order to get a 40 to 45 percent reduction...the Obama administration must take stronger action to clean up existing sources,” Earthjustice’s lead counsel, Tim Ballo, said in a statement.

White House aide Dan Utech told reporters Wednesday morning that President Obama “stands ready to collaborate” with the gas industry and the states on voluntary measures to cut methane pollution from existing facilities.

Industry groups warned that mandating such large methane cuts could threaten the nation’s increased natural gas production, which the American Petroleum Institute called “America’s energy renaissance.”

“As oil and natural gas production has risen dramatically, methane emissions have fallen thanks to industry leadership and investment in new technologies,” API president Jack Gerard said in a statement. “Even with that knowledge, the White House has singled out oil and natural gas for regulation, where methane emissions represent only 2 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.”

According to the White House, methane emissions from the oil and gas industry have fallen 16 percent since 1990 and are on track to rise by around 25 percent by 2025 owing to the growth of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The action on methane is the latest step in an array of measures the White House has taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions; it has used executive orders to sidestep bruising and likely futile battles with GOP lawmakers and Democrats from energy-producing states.

In his first term, Obama targeted carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks with improved fuel-efficiency standards. Last year, he went after carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

To reach Obama’s agreement with China to reduce carbon emissions between 26 percent and 28 percent by 2025, it’s going to take emissions cuts on current energy sources, increases in renewable sources like wind and solar energy, and more fuel-efficient cars.