Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 18, 2015

Contact: Patrick Sullivan, (415) 517-9364,

Obama Administration Proposes Weak Methane Pollution Standards for New Oil and Gas Operations

First-ever National Methane Limits Too High to Help Prevent Dangerous Warming

WASHINGTON— The Obama administration today announced methane pollution standards for new and modified oil and gas operations that do too little to curb emissions of this dangerously powerful greenhouse gas.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed standards would be the first mandatory national methane controls for oil and gas operations, but the rules would allow leakage of up to 5 percent from some units. Experts warn that an overall methane leakage rate of greater than 2.8 percent can make burning natural gas in power plants more harmful to the climate than coal.

“These weak rules would give the oil and gas industry permission to continue polluting our climate with methane emissions we cannot afford,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “The Obama administration needs to dramatically strengthen rules aimed at controlling leaks of this powerful pollutant from oil and gas wells. Decisive action now has the potential to change the course of climate change forever.”

Many of the so-called “new” methane standards are exactly the same as the limits already required for emissions of another class of pollutants called volatile organic compounds — which means those new standards will not actually reduce methane emissions beyond what’s already required by other measures.

The EPA indicates that the proposed rule will “complement” the agency’s recently expanded Natural Gas STAR program. But in the 20 years that Natural Gas STAR has been in existence, the methane reductions have been negligible. “No voluntary program can fulfill EPA’s obligation under the Clean Air Act to implement enforceable standards for existing sources,” Siegel said.

The rules do cover a substantial number of methane sources in the oil and gas industry, which lays important groundwork for future federal rules that would regulate emissions from existing facilities.

The draft rules aim to help make good on President Obama’s promise to reduce U.S. methane emissions from oil and gas by 40 percent to 45 percent in 2025. The oil and gas industry released more methane than any other industrial source in 2013 through leakage and venting at every step of operations from production to distribution of fossil fuels.

Methane is a climate pollutant that heats the atmosphere 87 times more than the same mass of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. As a short-lived pollutant, reductions in methane are essential to avoid catastrophic climate tipping elements and to comply with the U.S. commitment to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. Methane also has important health implications: It is an ozone precursor that endangers public health.

Because methane has market value as natural gas, there are many cost-neutral — and even cost-positive — opportunities to reduce methane from oil and gas operations. These mitigation options form the basis for EPA’s voluntary Natural Gas STAR program to reduce methane emissions. This voluntary program has been in existence for more than 20 years, yet has resulted in minimal reductions in methane due to low industry enrollment.

Methane emissions from oil and gas rose by 3 percent between 2012 and 2013, and “business as usual” methane emissions are expected to rise by 25 percent by 2025.

Today’s action only affects newly constructed and modified oil and gas sources. The myriad existing oil and gas sources that are the current culprits for methane pollution remain unaffected. The EPA is required under the Clean Air Act to promulgate emission guidelines for the reduction of methane from existing sources in conjunction with these new source standards.

“We must cut methane pollution as much as possible in the short-term,” said Siegel. “And to prevent climate catastrophe, we must leave the great majority of fossil fuels in the ground and transition to a truly clean energy future.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Go back