US & Canada Announce Methane Emissions Deal

During Justin Trudeau’s official visit to Washington last week, the Canadian Prime Minister and US President Barack Obama announced a collaborative deal to methane emission in the US and Canada. The¬†announcement of the two leaders was followed by a joint statement of their respective government agencies, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Environment and Climate Change Canada. Catherine McKenna, Canada’s minister for environmental efforts, had joined Trudeau on his official visit to Washington. The major clause of the US-Canada methane deal includes a commitment of the two countries to cut methane emissions to a 40-45 % reduction of 2012 levels by 2025.

On the Canadian side, many of the new regulations surrounding this deal are not expected to take effect until 2017. On the US side, President Obama pledged to limit methane emissions from future oil and gas projects while also continuing to curb emissions from current projects. Increased methane regulations in the US are partially motivated by the recent methane leak in Porter Ranch, California, which is now viewed as the largest methane leak in US history. In addition to environmental consequences of methane leaks, many communities that live close to natural gas fracking sites have complained about adverse health effects of leaked methane. Sam Adams, US climate director at the World Resources Institute, claims that leaks account for more than 9 million metric tons of methane pollution, which would be enough to supply the energy needs of 6.5 million homes each year.

While many environmental groups welcomed the commitment from Obama and Trudeau, the deal sparked backlash from the oil and gas industry as well as congressional opposition in the US. An industry spokesman claimed that the industry is already taking steps to reduce leaks and sell more products and that additional regulation would add unnecessary costs.

The announcements still lacks clarity as how both countries plan to execute their commitments. The oil and gas industries in both Canada and the US account for a substantial amount of economic activity. Moreover, both countries have experienced a fracking boom that has been aided by their desires to use natural gas to reduce coal dependencies of their energy infrastructures. In Canada, the oil and gas industry accounts for about half of the countries methane emissions while the other half mostly originates from natural sources, including the melting arctic. Given the globally interconnected effects of climate change, natural sources may be harder to curb by US and Canadian efforts. The US-Canada methane is certainly a step in the right direction, but many questions still need to answered to see how impactful it will be.