President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced steps to limit methane emissions from existing oil and natural gas wells, a move intended to underscore their commitment to combat climate change.
Canada and the U.S. are agreeing to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas by as much as 45 percent below 2012 amounts by 2025, according to a joint statement by the countries issued on Thursday, as Trudeau meets with Obama in Washington.
Oil and gas companies, whose profits are suffering because of a drop in prices, probably will seek to derail the plan.
Both Trudeau and Obama have described climate change as among the worldâ€™s most pressing challenges. The announcement underscores the extent to which an outgoing president and an incoming prime minister who are ideologically aligned are eager to address areas of mutual interest.
The two leaders also professed their support for halting routine flaring at oil and gas sites by 2030, committed to collaborate on boosting the fuel efficiency of post-2018 model year heavy-duty vehicles and said they would work together to integrate the United Statesâ€™ and Canadaâ€™s electric grids, allowing more renewable power to be brought online and shared across the border.
The two leaders are also expected to talk over more prickly issues, including security-induced traffic jams at the U.S.-Canadian border and Canadaâ€™s halting participation in the bombing campaign against IS. Trudeau will be treated to a state dinner, the first for a Canadian prime minister since 1997.
Next month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will begin a formal process to compel energy companies to provide information about the methane emissions produced along a series of oil and gas activities, including production, transmission, processing and storage.
The EPA is already finishing a rule that would require oil and gas companies to upgrade equipment and search out methane leaks at new and modified wells. Thursdayâ€™s announcement that the federal government will also clamp down on leaks at existing equipment may assuage concerns from environmentalists who say cutting leaks at new wells isnâ€™t enough to meet Obamaâ€™s carbon-cutting pledges.
According to the statement, the EPA â€œwill move as expeditiously as possible to complete this process.â€
If the EPA is unable to complete work on its methane regulation before the end of the Obama presidency, a Republican successor likely would withdraw the rule.
The government in Canadaâ€™s Alberta province is considering stricter methane rules for new equipment, though they likely wonâ€™t be as prescriptive as U.S. regulations, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Bernard Chen.
Environmental regulators in Canada intend to publish an initial phase of proposed methane regulations by early 2017, according to the joint statement.
About 25 percent of global warming is attributed to methane emissions, said Mark Brownstein, vice president in the Climate and Energy Program at the Environmental Defense Fund. Methane is 84 times as potent as carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere over 20 years, and the oil and gas sector accounts for about a third of U.S. emissions.