WASHINGTON, March 16, 2016 - The Obama administration is moving ahead with plans to reduce methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent. The good news for agriculture is that the administration’s latest plan would only target emissions from the oil and gas industry, not farming. (The sigh of relief you hear is from Hillary Clinton, who will have to carry most of the Midwest in November if she’s the Democratic presidential nominee.)

Methane is a major greenhouse gas, up to 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which is already requiring energy companies to control methane leakage from new and modified wells, will now order the oil and gas industry to provide information on their methane emissions from existing industry wells and other facilities, including transmission lines.

“To get all the way to that goal (of reducing emissions up to 45 percent) well be having to tackle emissions from existing sources,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who announced the plan during Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s state visit last week.

An industry specialist with the Bracewell lobbying firm, Sandra Snyder said the additional steps that the EPA plans will add cost to the industry at a time when its already struggling with falling oil and gas prices. “When companies own tens of thousands of wells, documentation and record keeping becomes a real issue, she said. “Regulation might also reduce the methods available to achieve the desired results: reducing leaks.”

The Canadian government, meanwhile, has committed to regulating methane emissions from both new and existing oil and gas sources and plans to propose rules next year.

A joint U.S.-Canadian statement on methane didn’t address agriculture, although a new study of methane emission trends published in the journal Science claims that emissions have likely been increasing since 2006 mostly because of agriculture, not fossil fuels. “If so, mitigating (methane) emissions must be balanced with the need for food production,” the authors wrote.

Much of the focus on reducing methane losses in agriculture has focused on measures such as the installation of digesters on dairy farms.


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