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 per cent below 2012 amounts by 2025, according to a joint statement by the countries issued 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 world’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 are also expected to talk over more prickly issues, including security-induced traffic jams at the U.S.- Canadian border and Canada’s halting participation in the bombing campaign against Islamic State. Trudeau will be treated to a state dinner, the first for a Canadian prime minister since 1997.
Obama sees himself in the younger Trudeau, 44, whose ascent in Canadian politics was built on pledges of hope and change and an inclusive vision of his country, and whose children are roughly the same age as Obama’s when he was elected in 2008. Trudeau told Bloomberg News in an interview earlier this month that he shares “a great compatibility right now in terms of the issues we’re looking at” with Obama.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the coming month plans to release draft requirements to compel energy companies to provide information about the emissions produced along a series of oil and gas activities, including production, transmission, processing and storage, according to the person familiar with the plan.
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. Thursday’s announcement that the federal government will also look at existing equipment may assuage concerns from environmentalists who say cutting leaks at new wells isn’t enough to meet Obama’s carbon-cutting pledges.
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 Canada’s Alberta province is considering stricter methane rules for new equipment, though they likely won’t be as prescriptive as U.S. regulations, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Bernard Chen.
The planned U.S.-Canada methane announcement was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal.
About 25 per cent 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 25 to 34 times as potent as carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere over a century.
“There’s very little else that can have that kind of dramatic impact on the rate of warming today in such a technologically feasible and cost-effective way as reducing oil and gas methane emissions,” Brownstein said. “The opportunity here is enormous, and it speaks to the significance of what both Canada and the United States are committed to.”
Conservationists are also watching for Obama and Trudeau to discuss management of the Arctic, including energy development and shipping in the region. That could include a crackdown on sooty black carbon, which darkens ice and hastens melting at the top of the globe. One option could be limits on sulfur content in ship fuel north of the Arctic Circle.
Trudeau is bringing with him to Washington his fisheries minister, Hunter Tootoo, an aboriginal Canadian who represents the district of Nunavut, a thinly populated and developed northern territory.
“As an Inuk, I’m keenly aware of the issues in the North,” he said in an interview. “We’re on the front lines of climate change and we’re feeling the impacts of it already.”
Canada’s contributions to the fight against the Islamic State militant group have caused some heartburn for the White House. Trudeau withdrew Canada’s six fighter jets from the coalition bombing Islamic State in February, while increasing the number of Canadian troops helping to train Iraqi forces fighting the group.
Trade is another difficult issue for Obama and Trudeau. The Canadian leader remains noncommittal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade deal between the U.S. and 11 other Asia-Pacific countries, including Canada, that Obama views as a cornerstone of his legacy.
The pact was hammered out in the middle of Canada’s election. Canada meanwhile hopes to enact its own free trade agreement with Europe after revising it to avoid fears that corporations would be over-empowered, a concern that has stalled trade negotiations between the U.S. and the European Union.
U.S.-canada Joint Statement on Climate, Energy, And Arctic Leadership