U.S. signals tighter rules on methane

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WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration outlined a new strategy Friday for addressing methane, signaling it may move to regulate a potent greenhouse gas released into the air from hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas.

Methane accounts for nearly 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to government estimates, but recent scientific studies suggest the real number may be between 13 and 14 percent. And while methane emissions have fallen since 1990, they are set to rise by 2030 as shale oil and shale gas production expands in the United States.

The White House proposal could lead to a handful of new regulations on the oil and gas industry -- which opposes any new federal rules -- and on landfills.

But it largely relies on voluntary actions to curb methane, which over a century is about 25 times more powerful as a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, the largest human contributor to climate change.

Dan Utech, special assistant to the president for energy and climate change, told reporters in a conference call that the administration will work to reduce methane "through cost-effective, voluntary actions and common-sense standards."

This spring, the Environmental Protection Agency will begin to assess the major sources of methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, while the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management will start taking comment on a program to capture and sell or dispose of methane from coal mines on federal lands.

The EPA will issue regulations for new landfills this summer, consider whether to impose tighter rules on existing landfills and decide by the fall whether to impose new methane emissions limits on the oil and gas sector. Any new limits on oil and gas production would become final by the end of 2016.

The land management bureau will propose new standards this fall to reduce venting and flaring from oil and gas production on public lands, but that will affect only a fraction of the nation's hydraulic fracturing operations, since most of these activities take place on private land.

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