The US announced a sweeping set of regulations and initiatives today to drastically reduce methane emissions.
The regulatory push spans across the multiple agencies responsible for agriculture, energy, the environment, housing, land management, and transportation.
Reducing methane emissions across industries is seen as one of the fastest ways to dramatically reduce global warming from human activities. Gas is responsible for about one-third of current warming trends.
Methane emissions come from agriculture, mining, waste treatment, and food waste (among other sources) and the Biden Administration is pulling all the levers it can to cut those emissions.
The US and the European Union have spent months trying to cobble together a coalition of countries that would partner on methane reduction policies. And while the efforts have brought a number of countries to the table (including Brazil), China, India, and Russia are not joining the commitment to reduce emissions by at least 30% by 2030.
Reducing carbon dioxide emissions remains the primary concern of the government officials that have gathered in Europe for the international meeting on climate change, but cutting methane emissions give those nations time to deal with thornier issues around reducing fossil fuel use.
That’s because methane has a more powerful warming effect than carbon dioxide, as the BBC noted in a recent report.
“This step is critical to meet President Biden’s pledge to cut America’s climate pollution in half by 2030,” David Doniger, a strategic director with the US-based environmental advocacy group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the BBC.
While agriculture is the largest source of methane emissions globally, in the US the bigger problem is the domestic oil and gas industry — and specifically the natural gas drillers that have led the renaissance in fossil fuel production in the US.
That’s why the new plan from the US will expand and bulk up requirements that new oil and gas facilities significantly reduce emissions. The plan also requires the nation’s 300,000 oil and gas well sites to cut emissions.
There are millions of abandoned wells dotting the US that are still leaking methane gas, according to a report by the NRDC.
“Orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells are located everywhere,” said NRDC senior advocate Joshua Axelrod, in a statement. “They can be in the middle of a forest, in backyards, in farm fields, even under sidewalks and houses.”
It’s not just wells that are leaking. The US estimates that leaks also come from the nearly 3 million miles of oil and gas pipelines as well.
Technology will play a huge role in ensuring that these initiatives are successful and a number of startup companies stand to benefit from the Biden Administration’s plan.
These are companies like Aclima, Bluefield and Arolytics, or the non-profit MethaneSAT, that use sensing technologies and satellites to monitor emissions in cities and around the world.
Rapid advancements in methane detection technology mean more sites can be monitored, Lauren Pagel, policy director at the environmental group Earthworks, told Bloomberg. “All communities deserve to breathe cleaner air and no well should be exempt from common-sense pollution standards when we know all wells pollute.”
Bio-remediation will also become a hot topic, which makes the recent funding for Cemvita Factory, a developer of bioremediation and utilization technologies, from investors including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Sumitomo Corp. look so prescient.
And then there’s Crusoe Energy, the startup that’s raised $128 million to turn abandoned oil and gas wells into data centers and cryptocurrency mining hubs.
While oil and gas is one area where methane emissions can be reduced, buildings are another. That’s why the Biden administration tapped the Department of Housing and Urban Development to develop programs that encourage electrification and energy efficiency and reduce the use of natural gas for home heating and cooking.
Here too, startups are coming to lend a hand. These are companies like Sealed, a FootPrint Coalition investment that’s paying the upfront costs to boost energy efficiency. Businesses like Dandelion Energy are using new geothermal development technologies to replace natural gas in home heating. And BlocPower is taking Sealed’s approach for individual homeowners and bringing it to multi-tenant housing units, and commercial and industrial facilities (all while empowering and reskilling workers in communities most impacted by pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.)
To help farmers address the methane problem from cattle, businesses like Mootral, which has a feed that reduces methane emissions in cow burps, or Zelp, which puts a methane filtering mask on cows, may come to the rescue.
And big oil is at least taking a small bet on solving the poop problem.
Earlier this year Shell Oil Products, a subsidiary of the oil and gas giant Royal Dutch Shell, flipped the switch on its first biomethane facility in the US.
The Junction City, Ore.-based plant uses locally sourced cow manure and agricultural waste to produce what it calls renewable natural gas.
It’s a project that fits into Shell’s designs to use waste streams from landfills and industrial agriculture to keep natural gas flowing through its pipelines in an effort to keep the gas industry itself afloat.
Finally, manure’s at the heart of the matter for Fyto, which uses robots and farm waste to grow algae that can be turned into cattle feed.
It’s the ultimate circular economy.
“We’re looking on how we can have the biggest positive impact, net, in how we produce food and deliver food and maintain food security while keeping the land and water and air healthy,” said Fyto chief executive Jason Prapas, in an interview earlier this year.
It’s a goal the Biden administration can get behind. Especially since the government called out Fyto’s strategy of “alternative manure management systems” as one of the key ways to reduce methane emissions from agriculture.