Efforts to Cut Methane Emissions Gain Momentum

When you look at all the different sources of pollution that are contributing to climate change, there are several reasons to pay special attention to methane. It’s a super-pollutant; like black carbon and hydrofluorocarbons, methane is many times more potent as a heat-trapper than carbon dioxide. It’s relatively short-lived in the atmosphere, so reductions in methane now can provide near-term reductions in warming that boost the impact of ongoing efforts to rein in carbon pollution.

And because one of the largest sources of methane is the oil and gas industry, where methane is leaked intentionally and unintentionally as well as burned (or “flared”), we know where it’s coming from, and the technical solutions to the problem are well known and readily available. That’s why organizations like Environmental Defense Fund, who work to reduce methane emissions, were glad to see Canada propose new action to reduce the amount of methane emitted from its oil and gas fields.

Reducing methane in Canada, in countries across the globe, and here in the U.S. can cut pollution from this potent greenhouse gas while minimizing waste. Recently published reports show that Canadian oil and gas methane emissions may be larger than is being reported. Even before these reports came out, Canadian government data showed that methane being wasted in Canada was enough gas to serve all of the households in Montreal annually.

In recent years, the U.S. has been a leader in the effort to address methane from oil and gas operations. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency released its first-ever standards to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. States like Ohio and Colorado have also taken strong action, with California recently announcing standards as well. In the international arena, that leadership culminated last March in a historic U.S.-Canadian commitment to lower methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. Mexico joined the effort soon afterward, and 15 other governments have also committed to regulate methane emissions.

In the U.S., the new U.S. Administration has issued an Executive Order targeting these and related protections issued by EPA. While no regulation can be undone with the stroke of a pen, this has caused many to worry whether momentum will continue. Even though the fate of federal-level action in the U.S. is hard to predict, there’s plenty of reasons for optimism at the state level. Recent research found that the actions U.S. states have already taken to address methane are huge. Taken together, the state rules in California, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Utah cover oil and gas operations 25 percent greater than the facilities encompassed by Canada’s proposed national rules.

That’s good news, because those who are most affected by climate change can’t afford to wait any longer. People around the world are dealing with the disruption of a changing climate already. That’s why Pisces works to reduce super-pollutants like methane – only by combining reductions in these pollutants with other vital reductions in carbon dioxide can global temperature rise stay under the critical two degrees Celsius threshold.

In a time of uncertainty and change, it’s more important than ever for nations to lead the way towards a clean and healthy environment.

About Jennifer Kurz

Jennifer Kurz is the Climate and Energy Program Officer for the Pisces Foundation. She has worked for over 15 years on environmental and international development policy.
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