POLITICS

Senators Call On Obama To Regulate Methane Emissions From Oil And Gas Development

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 23:  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy testifies before the Senate
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 23: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy testifies before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Capitol Hill, July 23, 2014 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on EPA's proposed carbon pollution standards for existing power plants. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- Fifteen senators are pressing the Obama administration to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas production, arguing that addressing methane is a "key component" of curbing planet-warming emissions.

"Ton for ton, methane causes at least 80 times more warming than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period," wrote the 13 Democratic senators and two Independents, led by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), in a letter addressed to President Barack Obama on Friday. "Voluntary standards are not enough. Too many in the oil and gas sector have failed to adopt sound practices voluntarily, and the absence of uniform enforceable standards has allowed methane pollution to continue, wasting energy and threatening public health."

The Obama administration issued a methane strategy in March, which included undertaking new studies and implementing voluntary measures for the oil and gas sector.

In the past, the White House has often touted the growing use of natural gas in the energy sector as a net positive for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But environmentalists have concerns about the amount of methane, the primary component of natural gas, that leaks during the extraction and transportation of the fuel.

The Environmental Protection Agency released five white papers in April looking at emissions from oil and gas operations. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Friday in a meeting with reporters that the agency is now in the process of developing a strategy for addressing those emissions. That strategy, which the EPA plans to release some time this fall, "will look at what tools we have and what we think are most appropriate" for addressing the matter, McCarthy said. She did not specify whether the agency would recommend voluntary measures or new regulations.

The Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management is also at work devising rules for the venting and flaring of methane at oil and gas production sites on public land. In their letter on Friday, the senators urged Obama "to ensure that BLM releases its proposal this year and that its standards protect our public lands, valuable natural resources, and climate."

What the administration does on methane will be "central to" its success in meeting emissions goals, the senators wrote.

"You have outlined what is necessary and you have authority to achieve these goals," they wrote. "We stand ready to support your action."

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