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Obama Administration Wants To Reduce Methane Emissions From Public Land

Wearing gas masks, protestors attend a hearing over a gas leak at the southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon Storage Facility near the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016. A 12-week-old gas leak that has plagued Los Angeles residents and driven thousands from their homes.

CREDIT: AP/Richard Vogel.

For the second time in a month, the Obama administration proposed an update on the 30-year-old rules which regulate fossil fuel extraction. The most recent announcement focused on curbing methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations.

“I think most people would agree that we should be using our nation’s natural gas to power our economy—not wasting it by venting and flaring it into the atmosphere,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. “We need to modernize decades-old standards to reflect existing technologies so that we can cut down on harmful methane emissions and use this captured natural gas to generate power and provide a return to taxpayers, tribes, and states for this public resource.”

Earlier this month, the administration announced a temporary halt on new coal-mining leases on federal land. During the halt, the Department of the Interior plans to investigate how taxpayers are affected when coal is sold on public land, and how much it could worsen climate change.

The Obama Administration’s newest climate-focused announcement is also within the realm of mining—it aims to limit the “wasteful release” of natural gas while curbing methane emissions. The proposal would require oil and gas producers to use current technology to limit flaring at oil wells on federal land. Additionally, operators would need to regularly check for natural gas leaks and replace old equipment that allows large amounts of gas and methane to leak out.

“These updated regulations, which would be phased in over several years … would not only get more of our nation’s natural gas into pipelines and delivered to market but also reduce pollution and cut greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to climate change,” said Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider.

The announcement also comes during the months-long Porter Ranch gas leak outside of Los Angeles, which has leaked over 88 thousand metric tons of methane into the atmosphere.

According to Jewell, the amount of gas lost through flaring and leaks between 2009 and 2014 could have powered more than 5 million homes for a year. Methane is 25 times more effective at keeping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, a well-known contributor to climate change.

The new proposal supports the administration’s goal of cutting the oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane by up to 45 percent from 2012 levels over the next ten years. The combination of this new proposal with the temporary ban on new coal-mining leases could signify a new policy trend which tightly regulates Big Oil, and actively combats climate change.

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