Last week the U.S. Senate voted 52-42 in favor of bringing back regulations from 2016 that aim to reduce methane emissions from leaks in exisitng and future oil and natural gas infrastrcuture.
Senate Democrats used the Congressional Review Act, which doesn’t allow filibusters, to overturn the previous administration’s recent removal of the methane-reducing legislation that was introduced in several steps during the Obama presidency.
Support for the reinstatement of the methane emissions legislature came from different and perhaps unexpected corners. Democrats and independents received three Republican votes, most notably from Lindsey Graham of South Carolina who said “I think it’s just unnecessary emissions that they can do something about, and they’ll need to do it.”
Oil companies like Exxon, BP and Shell have also been onside with the legislation, as they see it as a way to improve the image of their natural gas projects. Energy generated from natural gas is cleaner than coal and could still win some favor as an energy alternative in the new context of climate action. Methane leaks would not help that sales pitch.
Sources of Methane Emissions
Methane has come to the fore of climate concerns, as science in recent years has pinpointed it as a considerable culprit for global warming. Methane dissolves faster in the atmosphere but its impact on temperatures is even faster, as it is 80 times stronger than carbon dioxide in terms of heat retention during its first twenty years of circulation in the planet’s atmosphere.
According to a White House statement sent out to support the vote, methane is “a potent climate-disrupting greenhouse gas that is responsible for approximately one-third of the global warming.”
How to Reduce Methane
Reducing methane emissions has been on the International Energy Agency’s radar as well. In January they published a comprehensive roadmap for addressing fugutive methane emissions from natural gas production and other sources. The approach they suggested focused on five pilars of action:
- Permitting requirements
- Leak detection and repair
- Restrictions to flaring or venting
- Technology standard
- Enforcement provisions
Should the controls be implemented efficiently, it could be a win-win solution for almost all parties involved. It also comes on the back of several measures like the 45Q tax credit and Exxon’s proposal for a $100 billion carbon capture hub in the Gulf of Mexico. Combined these actions are well on their way to support targets for reduced emissions that President Biden announced at the Leaders Climate Summit in April, 2021.