Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 14, 2015

Contact: Vera Pardee, (858) 717-1448,

Obama Administration’s Goal to Reduce Methane Inadequate to Protect Climate

Plans Won't Regulate Most Methane Leaking From Oil and Gas Extraction, Processing, Distribution

SAN FRANCISCO— The Obama administration today announced a goal to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas extraction by between 40 and 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas thatpacks 87 times as much heat-trapping punch as carbon dioxide over the next two decades and 36 times as much over the next century. But the goal announced today would still fail to capture the majority of methane pollution that escapes whenever oil and gas are extracted, processed and distributed.

The oil and gas industry is the largest U.S. industrial source of methane pollution. Yet the steps the administration proposes would continue to allow millions of metric tons of this dangerous gas to escape into the atmosphere, even though cost-effective measures to capture it exist. Methane leaked, and intentionally dumped, into the atmosphere during oil and gas extraction from private and public lands, as well as methane leaked during processing and distribution, causes climate change, threatens public health, and wastes taxpayer money.

“This proposal is too little, too late,” said Vera Pardee, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Cutting methane pollution during the next 20 years is critical to avoid catastrophic climate disruption, but President Obama must take much stronger action much more quickly. The best way to reduce methane from oil and gas is to ban fracking and other unconventional extraction techniques and transition as rapidly as possible away from all fossil fuels. Until we do, the administration should aim to eliminate methane emissions rather than planning for half measures.”

According to the EPA, the oil and gas industry leaks and wastes almost 8 million metric tons of methane each year — enough to heat 6.5 million homes. But many recent scientific studies have found that the actual amount of methane pollution escaping into the atmosphere is at least twice as high. The plan also very likely undercounts total emissions by measuring them in 2012 rather than in 2014, even though oil and gas extraction has exploded during the past two years. Under the administration’s goal, less than half of the fugitive emissions it counts would be captured.

Methane seeps into the atmosphere from oil and gas wellheads during and after drilling, from aging infrastructure like gas-processing plants, compressor stations and gas-distribution facilities, and from millions of miles of leaky gas pipelines. Well operators also intentionally vent methane directly into the air or burn it at the wellhead instead of capturing and using or selling it.

Old and inefficient infrastructure accounts for some 90 percent of methane leaks. But the administration’s plan does not include writing rules to control emissions from this existing equipment, even though simple and cost-effective techniques to capture most leaks exist today. Rules to begin to regulate emissions from new and modified equipment will not be proposed until later this year, with compliance dates as far out as 2025, a full 10 years from now. But methane does most damage to the climate within a 20-year period, when it is 87 times as dangerous as carbon dioxide.

The Obama administration has pledged to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by between 26 percent and 28 percent by 2030. The methane plan does not explain how this pledge can be met when methane emissions from existing equipment remain unregulated.

“It is painful to see the administration describe natural gas, a fossil fuel, as ‘clean-burning’ even though it produces vast amounts of carbon dioxide. An increasing number of studies demonstrates that we must transition to a 100-percent renewable energy economy within the next few decades to stop the worst effects of climate change,” said Pardee. “We must stop the dangerous practice of fracking and leave at least two-thirds of fossil fuels underground. Whatever oil or gas we combust until then must be extracted and distributed in a manner that prevents dangerous methane leaks to the fullest extent possible. The administration’s goal falls far short of that.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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