Methane, a greenhouse gas that has 25 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide, must be reduced to 40-45% below 2012 levels by 2025, the government announced.
The Environmental Protection Agency will issue proposed rules for new and modified oil and gas production in the summer of 2015, with a final decision due in 2016.
Janet McCabe, from the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, promised the regulations would not unduly burden the industry.
“We believe the steps we’ve outlined here will protect the public health and the environment of the environment of this country, ensure safe and responsible oil and gas operations and allow the industry to continue to grow and provide a vital source of energy for Americans across the country,” she said.
The rules, to be administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, will save enough gas in 2025 to heat more than two million homes, administration officials said.
The US is the largest oil and gas producer in the world and methane leaks from the industry pose a global warming problem.
Emissions have gone down 16% since 1990, but are projected to rise by 25% by 2025 without additional steps.
The White House said it was too early to provide sharp estimates on the cost of the measures. President Barack Obama’s 2016 budget will propose US$15 million in funding for the Department of Energy to develop more cost-effective technologies to detect and reduce methane leaks in natural gas production.
The White House will also continue to welcome voluntary efforts by the sector.
“Oil and gas companies can also choose to become power players in reducing harmful, wasteful methane emissions from existing sources,” wrote John Podesta, an advisor to Obama, in a blog.
The announcement was criticised by green groups because it does not cover methane emissions from pipelines that transport the fuels.
“We cannot afford to wait: regulating methane directly is a critical step, but EPA and BLM [Bureau of Land Management] must act quickly to reduce methane emissions from all new and existing sources of methane pollution in the oil and gas sector, including the transmission and distribution of natural gas,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.
Linda Capato, fracking campaign director at 350.org, added: “While the proposed regulations acknowledge the major climate threat posed by fracking, they give a free pass to many existing sources of methane pollution, like leaky transmission and distribution infrastructure.”
Curbs on methane emissions were promised in March 2014 as part of Obama’s Climate Action Plan. Dan Utech, special assistant to President Obama on energy and climate change, said the administration had made “substantial progress” on this.
This has included new standards for coal-fired power plants, targeting one of the major sources of pollution in the US.
The next big environmental challenge of Obama’s second term will come in the shape of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
The president must decide whether to issue a final veto of the controversial project or allow construction to go ahead, bringing oil from Canadian tar sands to refineries on the US Gulf Coast.
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