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White House plan targets methane emissions in energy production, waste management

| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

WASHINGTON — The White House announced a wide-ranging plan on Friday aimed at cutting methane emissions from oil and gas drilling, landfills and other sources, part of President Obama's strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

The White House plan, which could lead to several regulations on energy production and waste management, addresses concerns about increased methane emissions resulting from an ongoing boom in drilling for oil and natural gas.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas released by landfills, cattle and leaks from oil and gas production. It is 21 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, the most abundant global warming gas, although it doesn't stay in the air as long. Methane emissions make up about 9 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, according to government estimates.

Experts say methane leaks can be controlled by fixes such as better gaskets, maintenance and monitoring. Such fixes are also thought to be cost-effective, since the industry ends up with more product to sell.

In the booming Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana, huge amounts of methane and other gases are burned off, or flared, during oil production, wasting millions of dollars and contributing to air pollution.

The White House said the Environmental Protection Agency will study how methane is released during oil and gas drilling and decide by the end of the year whether to develop regulations for methane emissions. If imposed, the regulations would be completed by the end of 2016, just before Obama leaves office.

The White House also said the Interior Department will propose updated standards to reduce venting and flaring of methane from oil and gas production on public lands.

Next month, the Bureau of Land Management will begin a rule-making process to require the capture and sale of methane waste produced by coal mines on lands leased by the federal government.

This summer, the EPA will propose updated standards to reduce methane from new landfills and consider whether to impose new standards for existing landfills.

In June, the Agriculture Department and other agencies will release a strategy for voluntary steps to reduce methane emissions from cattle, with the goal of cutting dairy sector greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.

Environmental groups praised the White House plan, although they noted that many details remain incomplete.

“The important thing is they charted a specific pathway forward, which we think should lead and will lead to additional standards for (reducing) methane leakage,” said David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

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