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U.S. finalizes ambitious rule to slash methane emissions 

The Biden administration has recently finalized a rule aimed at drastically reducing methane emissions from the US oil and gas industry. This ambitious initiative seeks to cut methane emissions by nearly 80 percent by 2038. 

The announcement, made at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, aligns with global efforts to mitigate climate change, particularly as temperatures worldwide continue to rise.

Preventing methane emissions 

Methane, primarily found in natural gas and as a byproduct of fossil fuel drilling, has over 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the first two decades after its release. The new rule, implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), targets this potent greenhouse gas. 

The EPA estimates that the legislation will prevent approximately 58 million tons of methane from entering the atmosphere, equating to removing over 300 million gas-powered cars from the roads for a year.

Key strategies

Key strategies in the rule include ending routine flaring of natural gas from oil wells and mandating its capture instead. The rule also emphasizes stringent monitoring of leaks from oil and gas wells, compressors, and other equipment. 

Additionally, independent third-party monitoring using satellites and remote-sensing technology will play a crucial role in detecting large methane leaks.

Slashing methane pollution

EPA Administrator Michael Regan and White House National Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi, who unveiled the rule at COP28, emphasized the Biden administration’s commitment to strong action against methane pollution. 

“From mobilizing billions in investment to plug orphaned wells, patch leaky pipes, and reclaim abandoned mines to setting strong standards that will cut pollution from the oil and gas sector, the Biden-Harris Administration is putting the full weight of the federal government into slashing harmful methane pollution,” said Zaidi.

Mitigating climate change 

The significance of this rule is underscored by the United States’ position as the world’s largest oil producer. With methane emissions having surged in recent years, the legislation is seen as a critical step in slowing down the pace of global warming. 

Experts suggest that addressing methane leaks and flaring offers a straightforward method to mitigate climate change impacts.

Environmental experts

The rule has been welcomed by environmental experts and climate advocates, noting the incentives for oil and gas companies to reduce leaks and flaring. 

Carrie Jenks from Harvard Law School’s Environmental & Energy Law Program and Jon Goldstein from the Environmental Defense Fund both recognized the potential benefits and the environmental importance of the rule.

Major step forward 

Goldstein noted that the EPA’s plan to end routine flaring is a major step forward. “The latest science is showing that flares are not just sources of waste, they’re also large sources of pollution because they’re just not working right,” he said. 

“The easiest way to stop that pollution is to stop sending it to flares in the first place. It doesn’t seem logical, why are you burning off this product you can sell?”

Oil and Gas Compact 

In a related development, fifty major oil and gas companies, including industry giants like Exxon and Saudi Aramco, pledged at COP28 to cut their methane emissions significantly by 2030. This commitment, known as the Oil and Gas Compact, targets an 80 to 90 percent reduction in methane intensity. 

The US rule and the global commitments represent a significant step in the battle against climate change, focusing on methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases. These initiatives underscore the increasing global emphasis on actionable and verifiable measures to combat environmental challenges.

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