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Obama Seeks to Regulate Energy Industry, Curb Climate Impacts

PHOTO: The White House wants the oil and gas industry to cut methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent over the next 10 years. It says energy developers are the largest source of methane pollution, which contributes to climate change. Photo credit: Paul Hocksenar.
PHOTO: The White House wants the oil and gas industry to cut methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent over the next 10 years. It says energy developers are the largest source of methane pollution, which contributes to climate change. Photo credit: Paul Hocksenar.
January 15, 2015

DENVER - President Obama's latest executive action to fight climate change takes aim at Colorado's booming oil and gas industry.

For the first time, the federal government would directly regulate the energy industry under the Clean Air Act for its methane emissions. The plan sets methane pollution control standards for new equipment, but not for existing equipment.

According to Earthjustice staff attorney Tim Ballo, methane is of concern because it's 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

"To really address climate pollution, we need to not only be focused on carbon dioxide but also on methane," says Ballo. "This is a crucial first step to doing that."

Earthjustice had sued the Environmental Protection Agency, alleging it wasn't doing enough to control methane being wasted by energy developers. In Wednesday's announcement, the President said the oil and gas sector is the biggest industrial methane polluter. The White House wants the industry to cut methane pollution by 40 to 45 percent over the next ten years.

While some methane is released intentionally through flaring at well sites, Ballo says most is the result of leaks and faulty equipment. Altogether, he says oil and gas companies release almost eight million tons of methane into the air every year.

"To put that into perspective," says Ballo, "that's the amount of natural gas basically needed to heat 6.5 million U.S. homes."

According to Ballo, the White House plan does need to prioritize fixing leaks and replacing parts in aging wells, pipelines and equipment.

Some critics are calling the plan an attack on the energy sector, and predicting it will drive up production costs. Others see it as the industry's chance to make a greater profit utilizing what's currently being wasted by releasing methane into the atmosphere.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO