The US government has proposed new regulations to stop oil and gas drilling operations on public land releasing unwanted methane into the atmosphere. The laws would force companies to deploy new equipment to capture the gas — which is 25 times better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide — at an estimated cost of $125 million to $161 million to the industry. The Department of the Interior, which set out the new rules last Friday, points out that much of this cost would be offset by selling the wasted emissions, and notes that between 2009 and 2014 there was enough natural gas lost through venting, leaking, and flaring to power more than 5 million US homes for a year.
The proposed legislation will be open to public comment before it's due to be finalized later in the year, and is part of a wider push by the Obama administration to combat climate change by limiting emissions. Overall, the White House has said it wants to cut methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent by 2025 (from a starting point of 2012's emission levels). The amount of methane in the Earth's atmosphere has doubled compared to pre-industrial times, increasing to around 1,800 parts per billion.
The Interior Department blames outdated equipment for the methane missions
The president of American Petroleum Institute, Jack Gerard, told Bloomberg that the new is "a regulation in search of a problem," and that oil companies would capture methane emissions if they had the necessary facilities to turn it into a sellable product. The Department of the Interior, meanwhile, has highlighted a report from 2010 showing that around 40 percent of lost gas can be "economically captured" with currently available technology. It also notes that some 84 percent of current oil and gas wells already meet the standards in the proposed legislation, and that outdated equipment is mainly to blame for the waste.
"I think most people would agree that we should be using our nation’s natural gas to power our economy — not wasting it by venting and flaring it into the atmosphere," said US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in a press statement. "We need to modernize decades-old standards to reflect existing technologies so that we can cut down on harmful methane emissions and use this captured natural gas to generate power and provide a return to taxpayers, tribes, and states for this public resource."