Gabrielle Levy,

Al Johnson-Kurts, 

The U.S. is focused on reducing emissions intensity in its “major” methane deliverable at COP28, but phasing out fossil fuels is critical to staying under globally agreed temperature rise limits.

Dubai – Today, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its long-awaited methane rule that aims to curb the prolific emissions of methane associated with America’s decades-long fracked gas boom. 

The methane rule, which targets new and – for the first time – existing sources of methane emissions from oil and gas production, is a welcome step forward. Yet neither this announcement nor the U.S.’s other methane-focused actions address the primary cause of climate change: burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuel companies continue to expand oil and gas production, flying in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus that fossil fuels must be rapidly phased out. 

Furthermore, the methane rule commits to merely inspecting sites four times a year rather than the 365 days a year that would be required to keep methane emissions in check in an industry that has an appalling record of pollution, waste, and malpractice. 

Meanwhile, last month the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced an international working group to develop a framework for the measurement, monitoring, reporting, and verification (MMRV) of methane, carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gas emissions from gas. The department claims this effort will reduce global emissions, but the voluntary framework would not require fossil fuel companies to make nor keep pledges to reduce overall production of oil and gas. As a result, the framework will be weaponized by the fossil fuel industry to justify increased production. The DOE acknowledges that the framework is aimed at privileging U.S. gas producers in the global gas market by positioning them as a cleaner alternative compared to other exporters. 

As currently envisioned, the DOE’s voluntary monitoring framework would rely on unreliable, easily manipulated, opaque technologies that do not adequately measure emissions. As countries move toward setting standards for methane emissions on imported oil and gas – like the European Union reached a deal to do last month – it is all the more critical that oil and gas companies’ claims can be rigorously, independently, and transparently verified. While the EPA rule and subsequent updates to reporting requirements under Subpart W will help identify and reduce methane emissions, they are likely to rely heavily on unproven and/or unreliable technology.

Further, the MMRV framework could help prop up greenwashing efforts like the “Global Decarbonization Alliance,” an initiative soon to be launched at this COP by the United Arab Emirates-held Presidency. The Global Decarbonization Alliance would see oil and gas producers commit to eliminating operational methane emissions while refusing to commit to reductions in the vast majority (80-90%) of their emissions from burning the fossil fuels they produce and sell (‘scope 3’ emissions).

 A report from the International Energy Agency and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition recently made clear that policies focused on reducing oil and gas emissions – without reducing production overall – are dangerous distractions and ineffective climate policy. To keep warming to globally agreed limits, we need a fair, fast, and funded phase-out of fossil fuels. None of the methane actions announced so far by the U.S. – the world’s largest oil and gas producer – meet the bar.

Lorne Stockman, Research Director, Oil Change International, said:
“U.S. legal action to reduce methane emissions is a welcome step forward. The problem is that the new methane rule is a commitment to check for emissions four times per year and not to check the other 361 days of the year. The facts are clear: To keep global warming under internationally agreed limits, we need a fair, fast, and funded phase-out of fossil fuels. So far, none of the methane actions announced by the U.S. – the world’s largest oil and gas producer – meet the bar.”

Gabrielle Levy, Associate Director of Methane Gas Communications at Climate Nexus, said:
“People around the world are counting on their leaders to protect communities from toxic pollution from oil and gas and reduce the threat of the impacts of runaway climate change.
It’s not enough to tinker around the edges. Eliminating methane pollution from oil and gas must be a priority for the U.S. and other nations at COP28, and that means taking concrete steps to cut those emissions at the source – by eliminating the source.”