Opinion: Biden administration can bolster climate and energy security by cutting methane

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The Biden administration can take action now to curb methane pollution, a major driver of global warming.

Opinion column by Janessa Goldbeck and Jon Goldstein

Russia’s war in Ukraine and its weaponization of fossil fuel exports continue to send shockwaves through global energy markets, driving up costs for consumers and raising the specter of gas shortages for U.S. allies in Europe.

At the same time, climate scientists continue to warn that we must end our dependence on fossil fuels to avert the worst impacts of global warming, which the latest National Security Strategy underscores as a serious threat.

Military and political leaders recently discussed how curbing emissions of methane – a powerful climate warmer and the main component of natural gas – offers an important near-term solution for advancing both climate and energy security goals as we work to decarbonize our economy in the long-term at a recent forum co-sponsored by Vet Voice Foundation, the American Security Project, the Center for Climate & Security and Environmental Defense Action Fund,.

“Let me begin by stating what has become increasingly obvious and of great concern to military leaders: climate change and our addiction to fossil fuels is a military and national security imperative,” said former Secretary of the U.S. Navy, Ray Mabus.

Methane as a dual solution

Methane from human sources drives over a quarter of current global warming, and research shows that swiftly curbing this pollution across sectors could slow the rate of climate change by 30%.

“Methane is the most pernicious, the most harmful of all the pollutants that go out,” said Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) at this summer’s energy security forum.

In the U.S. operators waste roughly 16 million metric tons of methane every year. That has the same climate impact as 350 coal plants and represents enough wasted gas to meet the needs of over 12 million homes for a year.

“By cutting methane emissions, it means less American energy is wasted and more natural gas is brought to market without having to increase drilling activity,” noted Retired Major General Paul Eaton.

According to analysis from Environmental Defense Fund, reducing waste of natural gas from leaks and flaring could provide over half of the 50 BCM/yr of natural gas the Biden administration has pledged to our European allies. All while making immediate progress to tackle climate change.

Biden admin can take action now

Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management are advancing rulemakings with the potential to significantly reduce methane emission and waste. It’s critical that the Biden administration take advantage of this opportunity to deliver strong rules that have the added benefit of reinforcing our climate and energy security.

“The U.S. has a critical role to play in leading on methane and climate. We’ve seen ambitious U.S. commitments on the global stage and now federal policies need to deliver on them,” said Mark Brownstein, Senior Vice President of Energy Transition at Environmental Defense Fund.

Protective rules from EPA this fall are vital for curbing pollution, and they must address the outsized pollution from smaller wells – which provide just 6% of our oil and gas but produce half of wellsite methane emissions nationwide.

Rules from both EPA and BLM must also address emissions from the practice of routine flaring, which researchers recently found emits 5 times more methane than previously thought. In fact, they estimate that flaring nationwide emits roughly 600,000 metric tons of methane – enough wasted gas to power nearly 6 million homes.

Swift action from the Biden administration to cut methane waste offers a critical near-term solution to bolster the energy security of the U.S. and our allies while protecting public health and addressing climate change, all while we work to decarbonize the economy in the long-term and end our dependence on fossil fuels.

Janessa Goldbeck is the CEO of Vet Voice Foundation. Jon Goldstein is the Senior Director of Regulatory & Legislative Affairs at the Environmental Defense Action Fund.