Obama Administration’s Plan to Regulate Methane Offers Yet Another False Solution

Poster Boy/Flickr
Poster Boy/Flickr

President Obama will announce a plan to cut methane emissions from America’s oil and gas industry during his State of the Union Address.

The plan would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to cut methane emissions by up to 45% from 2012 levels by 2025.

But, according to the Guardian, “it was not clear whether the new rules would apply to existing oil and gas installations, in addition to future sources of carbon pollution, which could weaken their effectiveness in fighting climate change.”

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter 

Washington, D.C.– “The Obama administration’s proposed methane rules are yet another half-measure, aimed at trying to clean up an inherently dirty fuel, essentially slapping lipstick on the proverbial pig and calling it ‘climate friendly.” If adopted, these regulations would wrongly promote natural gas as a ‘clean’ alternative to oil and coal, triggering even more fracking across the United States, bringing water contamination, earthquakes and health problems along with it.

“Implementing the proposed methane reductions could not possibly hold off the growing climate crisis. Leak reductions from the regulations will be undermined by increases in methane releases from expanded fracking. Further, setting aside the industry’s methane problems, and looking solely at carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas, more than 95 percent of fracked gas must remain in the ground, if we are to avoid the worst of expected impacts from global warming. To be serious about curbing climate change, President Obama needs to move aggressively to keep fossil fuels in the ground, stop promoting expanded drilling and fracking, and do everything in his power to accelerate the transition to a 100% renewable energy economy.”

BACKGROUND: President Obama has consistently touted expanded gas and oil production across the United States and including on federal lands — production that has tremendous climate impacts.

A recent article in the Journal Nature found in order to have only a 50-50 chance of remaining below a 2-degree (Celsius) temperature increase, about 80 percent of coal reserves, 30 percent of oil reserves and 50 percent of natural gas reserves must remain underground. This finding was before accounting for “technically recoverable resources” meaning these percentages don’t account for the tight oil and shale gas targeted with fracking.

A related analysis by Food & Water Watch looked at global estimates of unconventional natural gas (excluding methane hydrates) alongside a more conservative CO2 budget (specifically, a budget that corresponds to a 75 percent chance of avoiding 2 degree (Celsius) increase in global temperature.) The analysis found that even assuming a very aggressive phase out of oil and coal, conventional natural gas alone breaks the CO2 budget several times over, and that there is 23 times as much “technically recoverable” fracked gas as can be burned without breaking the budget. More than 95 percent of the natural gas that companies expect to be able to extract will have to stay underground.

While President Obama is continuing to promote expanded production, other leaders are not blind to the problems. In December Governor Andrew Cuomo took steps to ban fracking in New York and Congressmembers Mark Pocan and Jan Schakowsky introduced legislation to ban fracking on all federal lands, an important step to protecting our climate, and projecting real climate leadership in the world.


For more details on the detrimental effects of fracking, including its climate effects, please see our report, The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking.


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