The Biden administration is taking steps to cut emissions of methane, a potent, planet-warming gas.
Addressing methane emissions — which can come from old, leaking oil and gas wells and poorly maintained natural gas pipes — has been a priority for President Joe Biden, who last year pledged to slash fossil fuel emissions in an effort to mitigate the climate crisis.
The administration on Monday said it was making around $1.2 billion available for states to clean up and cap orphaned oil and gas wells, which can leak methane into the atmosphere. Many of the states that applied for access to the funding are located in the South, West and Appalachia regions, including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming.
It’s the first round of federal funding for cleanup of old wells, which will eventually total $4.7 billion.
“This is something that creates jobs; it can create jobs in the hardest hit areas,” the senior administration official said. “It can do all of that while bending the curve on emissions, and in particular, these super-polluting emissions.”
The administration also announced the Department of Transportation began new enforcement for oil and gas pipeline operators to minimize methane leaks. And the administration is creating an interagency working group dedicated to measuring and monitoring greenhouse gas emissions.
Other federal departments will provide support to states that are trying to reduce methane emissions from aging fossil fuel infrastructure. The Department of Energy is launching a new Methane Reduction Infrastructure Initiative to give its fellow agencies, states and tribes help to clean up wells.
While the bulk of the effort to reduce methane emissions is focused on the US oil and gas sector, the US Department of Agriculture is also researching ways to cut emissions from livestock. And the bipartisan infrastructure law also contains $11.3 billion in new funding to clean up abandoned mines around the country.
The senior administration official said a big part of the current effort is locating and mapping where abandoned wells are, in addition to capping them.
“When it comes to wells, there’s actually not been as much cataloging. A lot of that’s taken place at the state level and through the Interstate Oil and Gas compact,” the official said.
Methane is around 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the short term, and reducing methane leaks is among the easiest ways to slow global warming. It is the main component of natural gas, which powers close to 40% of the US electricity sector.
In September, the Biden and EU President Ursula von der Leyen announced a worldwide goal to reduce methane emissions 30% by the end of the decade. More than 100 countries have since signed that pledge.
And in November, Biden announced the Environmental Protection Agency will target methane emissions in a new rule to push companies to more accurately detect and repair leaks. The EPA estimated the rule would cut 41 million tons of methane emissions from 2023 to 2035 – more greenhouse gas than all the carbon dioxide emitted by all US passenger cars and commercial planes in 2019.
Cutting emissions of methane and other super-pollutants, like hydrofluorocarbons, will continue to be a big focus for the White House and agencies in 2022, the official said.
“The data tells you loud and clear that super-pollutants are making our lives worse in real time, right here and right now,” the official said. “Methane was a big focal point for us last year, it will be a big focal point both domestically and internationally for us going forward.”