Building on the momentum from the historic Paris Agreement last December, the United States and Canada announced this week a joint effort to cut methane emissions from oil and gas systems by 40-45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025.  It’s a significant move for both countries since these methane leaks account for 3 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and 8 percent in Canada. And for the United States, it signals the administration’s intent to set the first-ever standards to regulate methane from existing oil and gas systems, a necessary step for meeting the country’s goal to reduce its emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. 

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with 34 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide, so cutting emissions of it is vital to combating global climate change. Most of the methane emitted from industrial sources in the United States comes from oil and natural gas systems, where leaks occur throughout the supply chain, including drilling wells, producing and processing natural gas, transporting the finished product, and finally, consuming it. It’s a problem for climate change and for business—natural gas is predominantly made up of methane, so leaked gas is ultimately lost product. The oil and gas industry wasted about 7 million metric tons of methane in 2013. And with natural gas sites increasing in the United States--the number of gas wells grew more than 25 percent in the past decade—it’s a growing problem.  

The technology already exists to help producers capture wayward methane, and it’s cost effective, too. WRI research indicates that significant reductions in methane leakage can be achieved with technology that would pay for itself in fewer than three years.   

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has already proposed methane leakage rules for new natural gas and oil systems, which should be finalized in the next few months.  Next month, as announced in the statement by President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau, EPA will begin collecting information from existing oil and gas sources as a step toward an eventual rulemaking for existing sources.  Regulating methane emissions from existing oil and gas systems is a key and necessary step for the United States to hit its international emissions-reduction target, as we describe in our research paper, Delivering on the US Climate Commitment: A 10-Point Plan to a Low-Carbon Future.

The joint U.S.-Canada announcement is another positive signal that builds on the action catalyzed by the Paris Agreement. By acting to regulate methane from existing sources, the two nations are attacking an important source of the gases that drive global warming and demonstrating their commitment to meet their goals and join the rest of the world in fighting climate change.