Oil and gas wells, even abandoned ones, are a huge source of emissions. These sites are particularly known for their methane emissions, a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide. A recent NASA project identified particularly problematic emissions sites, and now, for the first time ever, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will regulate these sites.
The newly-released methane emissions action plan addresses two components of methane release from oil and gas operations: venting, where excess gas is set free into the atmosphere, and fugitive emissions, which come from cracks and leaks in equipment. The regulation of methane from oil and gas operations will cut methane emissions by an estimated 41 million tons between 2023 and 2035.
Although this is a good first step towards reducing emissions from oil and gas wells, methane researcher Arvind Ravikumar explained to Grist that he would like to see the regulation go further. Currently, the regulation scheme exempts some low-emitting wells from inspections and ignores the issue of burning off methane from oil and gas wells, where vented gas is burned to prevent its release, but still generates carbon dioxide. The law also has no provisions for abandoned wells, which are also a huge source of emissions.
Under the new regulations, venting will be prohibited and large wells are subject to quarterly inspections to identify potential leaking. The EPA has said that it will add flaring regulations to the legislation next year.
Ravikumar estimates that these new regulations will cut methane emissions from oil and gas wells by 50 percent, which benefits not only the environment but also those who live near oil and gas fields, as methane is a major contributor to smog. Unfortunately, it will take a while to have the infrastructure in place to implement the regulations. Officials estimate that the regulations will actually go into effect in 2023.