Methane Emissions: No Well Left Behind

Global leaders at the Glasgow climate summit pledged to sharply curtail methane emissions, with President Biden saying the U.S. would tighten regulations on oil and natural-gas production to reduce leaks of the potent greenhouse gas.

The summit spotlighted growing concerns about the environmental harms of methane, a byproduct of drilling, livestock, and landfills. Methane accounts for about a tenth of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the EPA.

“One of the most important things we can do in this decisive decade…is to reduce our methane emissions as quickly as possible,” Mr. Biden said.

Under proposed rules, the EPA would for the first time seek to regulate methane at existing wells nationwide. The plan would place stricter requirements on roughly a million new and existing wells. The EPA said it aims to complete the regulations next year.

The rules would mandate what the EPA calls “a comprehensive monitoring program to require companies to find and fix leaks” across operations including wells, pipes, and storage tanks to encourage the use of new technology for monitoring.

The combined measures could reduce methane emissions from oil wells, storage tanks and other facilities covered by the regulations by an estimated 74% by 2030, compared with 2005.

Complying with the new rules will cost the oil-and-gas industry an estimated $1.5 billion by 2026, when fully implemented, the EPA said. By 2032 those costs will decline to about $1 billion.

The rules have been a flashpoint within the industry and raised concerns about requirements for advanced technologies that are costly and complicated. EPA Administrator Michael Regan said technology is advancing so quickly that even smaller producers would be able to comply without financial harm.

Global oil companies including Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., and BP PLC have supported more federal regulation under pressure from investors concerned about climate change.

U.S. EPA regulations for all wells, producing and retired, is a bold step toward reducing methane emissions. Reducing emissions from new and existing wells is now more important than ever.

The oil and gas industry is at a sustainability crossroads with the opportunity to lead the way to a greener future: Protecting human and environmental health while providing vital energy for the world. As natural gas and other hydrocarbons provide a transition to renewable power sources, companies can reduce their carbon footprint by cleaning up existing well sites that emit methane.

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