Methane Capture: Options for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction

Methane Capture: Options for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction

Research on climate change has identified a wide array of sources that emit greenhouse gases
(GHGs). Among the six gases that have generally been the primary focus of concern, methane is
the second-most abundant, accounting for approximately 8% of total U.S. GHG emissions in
2008. Methane is emitted from a number of sources. The most significant are agriculture (both
animal digestive systems and manure management); landfills; oil and gas production, refining,
and distribution; and coal mining.
As policymakers consider options to reduce GHG emissions, methane capture projects offer an
array of possible reduction opportunities, many of which utilize proven technologies. Methane
capture projects (e.g., landfill gas projects, anaerobic digestion systems) restrict the release of
methane into the atmosphere. The methane captured can be used for energy or flared. Methane
capture challenges differ depending on the source. Most methane capture technologies face
obstacles to implementation, including marginal economics in many cases, restricted pipeline
access, and various legal issues.
Some of the leading methane capture options under discussion include market-based emission
control programs, carbon offsets, emission performance standards, and maintaining existing
programs and incentives. At present, methane capture technologies are supported by tax
incentives in some cases, by research and demonstration programs in others, by regulation in the
case of the largest landfills, and by voluntary programs. Congress could decide to address
methane capture in a number of different ways, including (1) determining the role of methane
capture in energy and environmental legislation; (2) determining whether methane capture should
be addressed on an industry-by-industry basis; and (3) determining if current methane capture
initiatives will be further advanced with legislative action regardless of other facets of the
environmental policy debate. What role methane capture would play in prospective regulations to
control GHGs is among the issues that Congress faces.
A few government programs have supported the capture of methane to mitigate climate change.
The Methane-to-Markets Partnership, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), is an international initiative to reduce global methane emissions. EPA also oversees a
variety of voluntary programs related to the Methane-to-Markets initiative (e.g., Coalbed
Methane Outreach Program, Natural Gas STAR Program, Landfill Methane Outreach Program,
AgSTAR Program).
This report discusses alternatives for addressing methane capture, sources of methane,
opportunities and challenges for methane capture, and current federal programs that support
methane recovery. [Lire plus]