Consortium Statement on US and Global Efforts to Reduce Methane Emissions
On November 2, the world made another significant step toward addressing the health emergency that is the climate crisis by pledging to rapidly reduce methane emissions. The Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health applauds these critical steps taken by the Biden Administration, the EPA, and leaders around the world.
The newly-released proposed rule from US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aims to cut methane emissions and other harmful pollutants from oil and gas industry operations. The new EPA regulations aim to reduce methane emissions 74% by 2030 over 2005 levels, a significant step toward meeting the Biden Administration’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030.
The Consortium previously worked to oppose the weakening of methane regulations during the Trump Administration as the health and equity impacts of oil and gas operations are well-documented, as is their role in accelerating global warming. We encourage the EPA to keep health at the forefront as they work to craft new, stronger safeguards and look forward to engaging further in the public comment process.
Simultaneously, more than 100 nations at the UN COP 26 climate conference in Glasgow pledged to reduce their methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030 after the US and European Union launched the Global Methane Pledge.
These national efforts backed by international pledges are major steps forward in helping us act with the urgency needed to avert the worst health harms from climate change. The Consortium, its members and partners encourage the Biden Administration and world leaders to continue to commit to climate and health solutions that are swift and equitable.
Background the Climate and Health Impacts of Methane Emissions:
Methane is the primary component of “natural gas” and is the second leading driver of climate change. Though it remains in the atmosphere for less time, methane is roughly 81 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas in the near-term. Methane concentrations in the atmosphere have steadily risen since 2010 and the IPCC estimates methane is responsible for roughly 45% of the 1.1°C of warming we’ve experienced since pre-industrial times. It’s therefore a critical gas to address in order to more rapidly reduce global warming. The oil and gas sector is a key target for reductions as they knowingly leak methane and other pollutants during operations – studies and satellite monitoring estimate leakage rates of 2-4%. While seemingly small, it’s estimated that these leaks could have completely negated the climate benefits of transitioning our US electricity generation from coal to natural gas (methane). The US EIA has also suggested that 40% of methane emissions from oil and gas production can be eliminated at no net-cost to the companies.
Beyond reducing the health impacts of climate change, reducing methane and oil and gas industry emissions will yield immediate public health and health equity benefits. Methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released from oil and gas operations are leading contributors to the formation of smog, which causes asthma, neurological disease, reproductive harm, and premature death. When methane leaks from a facility or is burned it is accompanied by other harmful air pollutants, carcinogens, and poisonous gases like toluene, benzene, and hydrogen sulfide.