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Oil and Gas Methane Pollution Offers Biden-Harris Early Climate Win

December 11, 2020 Work Area: Methane

Methane has become a hot topic, as levels of this potent, harmful greenhouse gas in the atmosphere soar. Fortunately, President-elect Biden has oil and gas methane at the top of his list of climate challenges to address.

The oil and gas industry is the largest industrial emitter of methane in the country because the industry’s namesake commodity, natural gas, is largely comprised of the pollutant. Stopping methane pollution not only makes sense for the planet, but it also makes sense (and cents) for the industry because they wouldn’t lose it into the atmosphere—it would instead be used or put into the market. Oil majors like Shell, BP, Exxon, and others have gone so far as to speak out in favor of direct regulation of methane.

But quick action on methane must also be aggressive, particularly given the failure of the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce climate pollutants over the past four years.

This week, CATF joined 43 partner groups in a letter to the Biden Administration describing what a methane win would look like. Based on a recent CATF report, the Biden Administration should issue strong new and existing source regulations—using existing regulatory precedents and current technologies—under section 111 of the Clean Air Act. By 2025, regulations could reduce methane emissions from the industry to 65% below 2012 levels. This would be achieved through strengthening requirements to find and fix leaks, replacing pneumatic equipment with zero-emitting technology, and other best practices to minimize the industry’s pollution.

These technologies represent an affordable, reasonable, and important way to reduce our climate footprint, move closer toward meeting our Paris agreement commitments, and set a global example for steep, rapid cuts in harmful methane pollution. The measures we outlined would cut US methane emissions in 2025 by 640 million tons of CO2e (compared to emissions in 2025 under current rules), the equivalent of shutting down an impressive 160 coal-fired power plants or taking 140 million cars off the road.

It is up to the Biden Administration, as taking this important climate action is an authority already delegated to them by Congress. President Biden will need to stand strong and go big on methane in order to get rid of this unnecessary pollution. If EPA takes the “easy route” and just reinstates the 2016 methane new source regulations and extends them to existing sources, reductions in 2025 would only be 23% lower than in 2012 – leaving 5 million tons per year of methane pollution on the table.  This is an enormous amount of avoidable climate pollution. Reducing methane pollution by 5 million tons a year has the same climate benefits over the coming decades as shutting down 110 coal-fired power plants and replacing them with carbon-free generation.  We can’t let this opportunity pass.

Further, taking bold action on methane would present the Biden Administration with an important opportunity to improve public health and create new jobs. Not only will stronger methane standards reduce climate pollution, but they’ll also help reduce other hazardous air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds and benzene.  By improving air quality, methane standards can provide immediate relief to 9 million people that live within a half mile of active gas or oil wells, including 2.5 million people of color. Strikingly, CATF’s analyses show that this industry’s air pollution causes more than 150,000 asthma attacks for Latinx children and 140,000 for Black children. These children are disproportionately impacted by asthma: compared to white counterparts, Latinx children are twice as likely, and Black children are four times as likely to need to go to an emergency room due to an asthma attack.

And stronger measures to reduce methane also push innovation and dovetail neatly with the Biden Administration’s goal to “Build Back Better,” creating thousands of new jobs.

With so many reasons for action, President-elect Biden can seize a huge opportunity on methane. CATF and our partners are ready to help his team get it right and score a big immediate win on climate.

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