US, Canadian leaders jointly commit to aggressive methane controls

This article was updated Mar. 11.

The US and Canadian governments will work together to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industries in their countries 40-45% from 2012 levels by 2025, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a joint statement during Trudeau’s visit to Washington.

The two leaders also agreed to take steps to fight climate change in the Arctic and accelerate clean energy technology development as part of a broader agreement to meet goals their countries’ representatives established at global climate talks in Paris in November.

“When I visited the Arctic last year, I saw how both of our nations are threatened by rising seas, melting permafrost, [and] disappearing glaciers and sea ice,” Obama said during a joint press conference with Trudeau on Mar. 10. “We are focusing on making sure the Paris agreement is fully implemented, and we are working to double our investments in clean energy research and development.

“Today, we’re also announcing some new steps,” he said. “Canada is joining us in our aggressive goal to bring down methane emissions in the oil and gas sectors in both of our countries. Together, we’re going to move swiftly to establish comprehensive standards to meet that goal.”

Specific steps will include the following:

• The US Environmental Protection Agency will start a formal process next month to require oil and gas companies with methane-emitting operations to provide information to assist in development of more comprehensive regulations. It will start with an Information Collection Request, which EPA’s administrator said is a routine step to help the agency identify the most significant sources of emissions, the kinds of technologies that work best to reduce them, and how those technologies can be applied effectively.

• Environment and Climate Change Canada will move “as expeditiously as possible” to put in place oil and gas methane emissions limits comparable to those in the US. Covered sources will include venting from wells and batteries (including associated gas at oil facilities); storage tanks; pneumatic devices; well completions; equipment leaks; and unique Canadian sources such as heavy oil. It will consult with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous peoples, the oil and gas industry, and other stakeholders before proposing rules in early 2017 and finalizing them by yearend. Requirements would be phased in, starting in 2018 with leak detection and repair and concluded in 2020.

• The two governments will work together to develop federal methane emissions reduction rules this year, based on the US-Canada Air Quality Agreement. They also plan to work together to improve data collection, transparency, and research and development, and share information on cost-effective methane reduction technologies and practices.

• They also endorsed the World Bank’s Zero Routine Flaring by 2030 Initiative, and agreed to report annually on their progress.

Independent Petroleum Association of America and American Petroleum Institute officials immediately criticized the Obama administration’s action.

“This new, aggressive proposal threatens about 20% of America’s oil production and 13% of its gas production from its smallest oil and gas wells,” IPAA Executive Vice-Pres. Lee O. Fuller said. “These ‘marginal wells’ are already barely economic, producing small volumes a day. Added costs can shut down these wells. And the result is lost jobs, higher fuel prices, less clean-burning natural gas, and more reliance on foreign oil.”

Obama’s plan to add new methane regulations when emissions from oil and gas operations are falling already could harm the country’s shale energy revolution which has lowered annual retail motor fuel costs by $700/motorist and residential energy prices by $1,200/homeowner, API Vice-Pres. of Regulatory and Economic Policy Kyle Isakower warned.

“America is already leading the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “Even as oil and gas production has risen dramatically, methane emissions have fallen, thanks to industry leadership and investment in new technologies.”

An official with the Western Energy Alliance in Denver also took issue with the administration’s action. “What’s particularly interesting about today’s announcement is that the president has gone even farther with his ‘pen and phone,’” said Kathleen Sgamma, WEA’s vice-president of government and public affairs. “Knowing there’s not time in his last term to get through the regulatory process required by law, he’s directing EPA to engage in regulation by enforcement.”

She said, “EPA will use Clean Air Act Section 114 enforcement requests to tie companies in knots with highly detailed and extremely time-consuming requests for information, and then threaten huge fines if they don’t change practices, even if they’re operating according to existing regulations. Apparently, laws don’t matter to the president when he’s targeting an industry he doesn’t like.”

Contact Nick Snow at

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