Methane and Climate Change

AuthorSteven Ferrey with Romany M. Webb
Page 879
I. Introduction
Short-lived climate chemical pollutants, which are domi-
nated by methane, exert a powerful climate impact over
the near term. (e other principal short-lived pollutants
are discussed in other chapters—black carbon in Chapter
32, and uorinated gases in Chapter 34.) Although meth-
ane is emitted in smaller quantities t han carbon dioxide,
and remains in the atmosphere for shorter periods, it is
much more potent as a warming agent. According to the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in
the rst 20 years af ter it is released, methane traps 84 times
more heat in the earth’s atmosphere than carbon dioxide
(on a per ton basis).1 Other university research indicates
1. See Rajendra K. Pachauri et al., Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report, in
F A R   I P  C
C 87 (Core Writing Team et al. eds., IPCC 2014), available at https://
that methane could be even more of a warming agent.2
Reducing methane emissions is, therefore, vital to slow the
pace of global warming.
e Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP)
technical report for the United States indicates that, to
limit the increase in global average temperatures to 2
degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, green house gas
(GHG) emissions must be reduced by 80% below 1990
levels by 2050.3 Achieving an 80% reduction in methane
emissions will require action in th ree key areas. One is fos-
sil fuel production and transportation, which is estimated
to account for nearly 40% of national methane emissions,
2. See, e.g., Robert W. Howarth et al., Methane and the Greenhouse Gas Footprint
of Natural Gas From Shale Formations, 106 C C 679, 683
3. J H. W  ., P  D D  
U S, U.S. 2050 R, V 1: T R xii (Deep
Decarbonization Pathways Project & Energy and Environmental Economics,
Inc., 2015), available at
pdf [hereinafter DDPP T R].
Chapter 33
Methane and Climate Change
by Steven Ferrey with Romany M. Webb
Short-lived climate chemical pollutants, such as methane, exert a much more powerful climate impact than CO2
in the near term. e Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that, in the rst 20 years after it
is released, methane traps 84 times more heat in the earth’s atmosphere than CO2 (on a per ton basis), while
other researchers suggest it could be even more of a near-term warming agent. Given this, and with methane
the second most dominant climate-warming chemical, reducing emissions is vital to avoid dangerous climate
change. e Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project technical report for the United States indicates that, to
limit warming to 2°C or less, greenhouse gase emissions must be reduced by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
e United States is not currently on track to meet that goal with respect to methane. Any emissions reduction
strategy must target the three largest anthropogenic sources of methane (i.e., fossil fuel production and trans-
portation, agriculture, and waste management), which together account for 96% of national emissions. In each
sector, emissions can be reduced by employing available technologies to capture methane, and utilizing it as an
energy source. While this benets emitters, reducing their energy costs and/or generating additional revenues
(e.g., from the sale of captured methane), many facilities are yet to deploy capture systems. is chapter addresses
the technological pathways to reduce methane emissions in the fossil fuel, agriculture, and waste management
sectors, and identify barriers to their adoption. e chapter outlines regulatory reforms needed to overcome
those barriers and otherwise support emissions reductions.
Page 880 Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States
most of which occur during the production and transport
of natural gas (which consists primarily of methane).4 e
second is agricultural production, particularly the raising
of livestock, which currently accounts for 38% of meth-
ane emissions.5 e third is waste management, including
landlls a nd sewage treatment facilities, wh ich account for
19% of methane emissions.6
e technology is available to reduce methane emis-
sions in the fossil fuel, agriculture, a nd waste management
sectors. In each sector, recovery systems can be installed
to capture methane, enabling its utilization as an energy
source. is is often cost eect ive, with emitters realizing
energy cost savings and/or increased revenues (e.g., from
the sale of captured methane), which help to oset system
costs. For example, according to a 2014 study, methane
emissions from natural gas and oil production could be
reduced by 40% at a cost of just $0.66 per thousand cubic
feet of methane captured.7 e benets of emissions reduc-
tion far exceed the costs: approximately 64% of potential
reductions in global methane emissions ca n be achieved
for less than $250 per metric ton, which is well below the
estimated ~$1,100 per metric ton value gained (i.e., in cli-
mate, health, and other social benets).8 Notwithstanding
these benets, emitters are often reluctant to deploy meth-
ane recovery systems due to their high up-front costs, the
fact that the implementing actor does not realize or inter-
nalize the socia l benets, and uncertainty over the payback
period. What is required, then, is regu lation to encourage
or require the capture and use of methane.
Some regulatory action to address methane emissions
was taken during President Obama’s second term. e
President’s Climate Action Plan, released in June 2013,
described reducing methane emissions as “critical to our
overall eorts to address global climate change.”9 e
plan directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), in collaboration with the Departments of Agri-
culture, Energy, Interior, Labor, and Transportation, to
develop a comprehensive emissions reduction strategy.10
Finalized in March 2014, the Strategy to Reduce Metha ne
4. U.S. E P A (EPA), I  U.S.
G G E  S: 1990-2016 ES-6 to ES-8 (2018)
(EPA 430-R-18-003), available at
les/2018-01/documents/2018_complete_report.pdf. is is a conserva-
tive estimate. Recent studies suggest that the EPA gures may signicantly
understate methane emissions from natural gas and oil systems. See, e.g.,
Ramón A. Alvarez et al., Assessment of Methane Emissions From the U.S. Oil
and Gas Supply Chain, S. (June 21, 2018)
5. EPA, supra note 4, at ES-6 to ES-8.
6. Id.
7. ICF I, E A  M E R-
 O   U.S. O O  N G
I 1-1 (2014), available at
8. Drew Shindell et al., Simultaneously Mitigating Near-Term Climate Change
and Improving Human Health and Food Security, 335 S 183 (2012).
9. E O   P, T P’ C A
P 10 (2013), available at
10. Id.
Emissions targeted the largest sources of methane from oil
and gas production, coal mines, agriculture, and land lls,
identifying a raf t of voluntary programs and regulatory
measures to reduce emissions.11 With the implementa-
tion of the strategy, the Obama Administration hoped to
accomplish approximately 90 million metric tons of GHG
reductions by 2020.12 Full implementation of the strategy
is, however, unlikely given the deregulatory agenda being
pursued by President Trump. At President Trump’s direc-
tion, EPA has commenced a review of two sets of Obama-
era regulations, adopted under the Strategy to Reduce
Methane Emissions, to control emissions from oil and gas
production13 and land lls.14 Bureau of Land Management
(BLM) regulations targeting methane emissions are also
under review.15
Following completion of these reviews, the EPA and
BLM regulations are expected by some to be substantially
weakened, and in some cases entirely eliminated. Even if
the regulations are retained in their current form, more
will need to be done to curb methane emissions to cost-
eective ranges. is chapter identies regulatory actions
that may be taken at the federal and state levels. It also
explores the potential for private governance programs tar-
geting met hane emissions.
e remainder of the chapter is structured as follows:
it begins by looking at the eects of methane emissions
in Section II. e section then discusses the possibility of
capturing methane prior to emission for use as a n energy
source. e subsequent sections explore the current regu-
latory framework for, and reforms needed to promote,
methane capture in three key industries that account for
the bulk of emissions. Section III focuses on the fossil fuel
industry, Section IV considers agricultur al operations, and
Section V waste management. Section VI concludes.
II. Methane as a Potent GHG
In terms of cumulative impact, methane is the second
most damaging GHG, after carbon dioxide. According to
EPA, methane accounted for nearly 10% of total GHG
emissions in the United States in 2015 (measured in car-
11. T W H, C A P: S  R M
E (2014), available at
12. Id. at 1.
13. Review of the 2016 Oil and Gas New Source Performance Standards for
New, Reconstructed, and Modied Sources, 82 Fed. Reg. 16331 (Apr. 4,
2017). See also Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New,
Reconstructed, and Modied Sources, 81 Fed. Reg. 35824 (June 3, 2016).
14. Stay of Standards of Performance for Municipal Solid Waste Landlls and
Emission Guidelines and Compliance Times for Municipal Solid Waste
Landlls, 82 Fed. Reg. 24878 (May 31, 2017). See also Standards of Perfor-
mance for Municipal Solid Waste Landlls, 81 Fed. Reg. 59332 (Aug. 29,
2016); Emission Guidelines and Compliance Times for Municipal Solid
Waste Landlls, 81 Fed. Reg. 59276 (Aug. 29, 2016).
15. Secretarial Order No. 3349, American Energy Independence, 82 Fed. Reg.
50532, 50534 (Nov. 1, 2017).

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