Good News for Ontario Climate Action: Six U.S. Methane Emission Steps

As major consumers of this U.S. natural gas, Ontarians should have an interest in seeing Obama's methane emission reduction plans.

Most people in Ontario probably don't know these three facts:

  • About one-third of the overall energy used in Ontario is natural gas, 
  • Ontario is on track to import the majority of its natural gas from the U.S.,
  • Ontario is a primary beneficiary of low cost natural gas from U.S. horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to extract unconventional oil and gas

The people of Ontario have a big stake in how U.S. natural gas is extracted and transported to Ontario, especially given that the U.S. natural gas industry is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in the form of methane gas.  So when U.S. President Obama announces new plans to cut methane emissions, this is important news for Ontario consumers of natural gas who care about reducing greenhouse gases and fighting climate change.  

According to the U.S. EPA, methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the U.S. from human activities. In 2012, methane accounted for about 9% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. The U.S. EPA also notes that natural gas and petroleum systems are the largest source of methane emissions from industry in the United States. 

Methane is 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. As the primary component of natural gas, it is emitted to the atmosphere during the production, processing, storage, transmission, and distribution of natural gas.  As a result of horizontal fracturing for natural gas extraction, the U.S. is now the world's largest producer of natural gas.  As major consumers of this U.S. natural gas, Ontarians should have an interest in seeing Obama's methane emission reduction plans.

The six U.S. methane emission reduction steps include:

1. Regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency that target methane emissions from new and modified oil and gas wells. The proposal will be issued this summer and finalized in 2016.
2. The Interior Department will release a new rule aimed at updating standards to reduce venting, flaring and leaks from new and existing oil and gas wells on public lands. The rule will be issued by the Bureau of Land Management this spring.
3. The Department of Transportation will look at slashing methane leaks when issuing new pipeline safety standards.
4. The president’s 2016 budget request will include $15 million for the Department of Energy (DOE) to advance research on cost-effective technology that detects leaks.
5. DOE will also issue energy efficiency standards for natural gas air compressors.
6. The Whitehouse is also looking for voluntary actions from industry. 

It will be interesting to see how Canadian and Ontario government environment ministries, and regulators such as the Ontario Energy Board and the National Energy Board respond to Obama's methane emission reductions.  Keeping track of U.S. greenhouse gas activities is important for understanding the impacts of unconventional oil and gas in Ontario and for Ontario climate action.  Ontario is not a big producer, but it is a big consumer.  And the timing and circumstances are ripe for natural gas innovation for Ontario, including:

  • Ontario "green gas" and renewable natural gas from agricultural sources such as livestock manure,
  • innovations in landfill gas production in the waste management sector,
  • opportunities to inject naturally produced biomethane into Ontario's network of natural gas pipelines to replace some fossil gas with green gas, and
  • expansion of natural gas pipelines into rural and agricultural areas to expand use of low cost natural gas vs. more costly electicity for heating - but also opening opportunities for biomethane injection

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