GLASGOW, Scotland — The Biden administration on Tuesday announced plans to introduce some of the nation’s strongest regulations against methane emissions from oil and gas drilling, part of a broader push to tackle climate change that White House officials are unveiling at the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
The new rules, proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, aim to curb methane emissions for new and existing oil and gas infrastructure, thereby reducing a significant source of pollution from fossil fuel companies. The regulations target methane leaks and instances when methane gas is purposefully vented, or flared, during the production process.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is released into the atmosphere when coal, oil and natural gas are mined and transported, but microbes also emit methane in low-oxygen environments. Methane emissions have been responsible for roughly 30 percent of global warming since pre-industrial times, according to the U.N. Environment Programme.
An estimated 75 percent of the country’s methane emissions will be covered by the new EPA rules, according to senior administration officials.
In addition to the EPA regulations, senior administration officials said more than 80 countries are set to join the U.S. and the European Union in pledging to collectively reduce the world’s methane emissions by 30 percent by the end of the decade.
The announcement is a key development in the global fight against climate change and one that will likely help Biden signal to allies that the United States is taking serious action on climate, even as divisions within his own party are threatening other aspects of the president’s climate agenda.
Methane accounts for a much smaller percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions compared to carbon dioxide, but methane’s molecular structure makes it more readily able to absorb thermal radiation, meaning it can drive significant short-term warming.
Research published last year in the journal Earth System Science Data found that human activities contribute about 60 percent of global methane emissions. Agriculture makes up roughly two-thirds of that figure, and fossil fuel production and use account for most of the rest, the study found.
The EPA rules will be stricter than regulations on methane emissions that were set in 2016 during the Obama administration. Those rules were relaxed by former President Donald Trump, but methane standards were reinstated shortly after Biden took office.
Sarah Smith, a program director at the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit advocacy group, hailed the U.S. and EU leaders’ involvement in launching the so-called Global Methane Pledge.
“For too long this potent super pollutant has fallen off the agenda at major climate summits while its emissions have risen to all-time highs, pushing our planet closer to potentially irreversible tipping points,” Smith said in a statement. “By launching the Global Methane Pledge on the world stage, they’ve made sure that methane will be front and center — where it belongs.”
Denise Chow is a reporter for NBC News Science focused on general science and climate change.