By Bill Bradlee, Interfaith Power & Light
“Even as we try to phase out our reliance on fossil fuels, we must work to clean up existing operations rapidly and rigorously, and today’s announcement does just that.”
~ Ali Zaidi, White House national climate advisor at COP28
While we enact commonsense climate safeguards, we must simultaneously build the political will and the energy innovations to make transformational change. This is the essence of what White House national climate advisor Ali Zaidi said recently at COP28. He was speaking about the newly introduced EPA methane rule.
EPA Administrator Regan announced the new methane rule at COP28 on December 2nd. Once implemented, it will help protect those living in or working around oil and gas development. The new regulations are the first time the U.S. will address smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and methane pollution from both new and existing sources nationwide. This part is critical – EPA will finally regulate the existing older oil and gas infrastructure that contributes to the majority of the methane pollution.
Over the last year, EPA incorporated feedback from nearly 1 million public comments, including many from people of faith. Interfaith Power & Light, particularly in major oil and gas producing states like New Mexico, have worked for years in support of a strong rule that helps to protect those on the frontlines of oil and gas operations. The EPA estimates that the long-awaited rule will prevent 58 million tons of methane emissions between 2024 and 2038 — reductions equivalent to taking 28 million cars off the road every year.
Although it persists in the atmosphere for less time, methane has over 80 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide. This is why addressing methane pollution immediately is so important – large reductions in methane pollution can have a swifter impact on reducing global average temperatures while also protecting human health.
So what, exactly, will this new rule do?
First, it requires oil and gas operators to invest in equipment that doesn’t leak methane pollution into our shared air. The equipment, which regulates pressure and flow, is now the second-largest source of methane from oil and gas operations. Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) requirements increase the leak detection and repair schedule for oil companies.
Second, the rule phases out most operators from flaring – burning off gas at oil wells. New wells have to phase down, flaring over a two-year period. There is an exception for some older, low-emitting wells.
Third, it encourages companies to use alternative detection technologies, like aerial surveys and continuous monitoring, to track any leaks. It starts a super emitter reduction program that allows 3rd parties, using EPA-approved technologies, to detect super emitter events and alert the EPA who then enforces the needed repairs. These “super emitter” events comprise a large proportion of total methane emissions.
Finally, this EPA rule unveils a new “social cost of carbon” at $190 a ton. This science-based figure gives the government legal authority to boldly limit climate pollution from nearly every U.S. tailpipe and power plant.
The costs of the rule are mostly compliance costs projected at $ 2.5 billion. Many would say the benefits for our climate and health are immeasurable. Those who count such things show total net benefits of $7.6 billion annually, including $1 billion each year in saved methane gas that would otherwise be leaked or flared off – utterly wasted and contributing to more rapid climate impacts. Still, we expect that those who disagree with common-sense regulations will bring lawsuits.
The new rule is important and consequential for the United States. Looking at the larger global landscape, the EPA methane rule offers credibility for U.S. efforts toward the 155-country Global Methane Pledge, which commits to cutting global methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. Any win that encourages cooperation among nations is crucial to addressing a global climate crisis.