Last Friday, the White House issued a press release announcing a new strategy to cut U.S. methane emissions.
Methane accounts for only 9% of the U.S.’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, the compound is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, making it a powerful contributor to climate change. It has a number of high-profile sources, including landfills, livestock, and oil and natural gas production.
The new strategy is the latest in a series of actions taken by the administration to lower the country’s GHG emissions while bypassing the politically congested Congress. It fits in with Obama’s long-term goal to lower U.S. GHG emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. This is the objective that Obama pledged to reach in a United Nations Climate Change accord in 2009.
The Obama administration is particularly eager to confront the issue of methane emissions because of its link to natural gas production. The administration’s overall GHG emissions reduction strategy centers on a move away from the use of coal-fired electricity to electricity produced from American natural gas. When burned, natural gas emits less than half the GHGs as coal does. However, the extraction of natural gas, particularly through hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as fracking), can lead to substantial methane emissions, threatening to offset the benefits of using this energy source. This puts the Obama administration’s plan to lower GHG emissions in jeopardy and makes bringing down methane emissions vital to the success of their long-term objectives.
The new plan aims to tackle the major sources of U.S. methane emissions, listed in the White House press release as: landfills, coals mines, agriculture, and oil and gas. However, the natural gas aspect will likely be the administration’s main focus going forward. For more details on the strategy see the White House press release.