The US Environmental Protection Agency is introducing new regulations requiring emissions of methane in the oil and gas sector to be cut by up to 45 per cent by 2025 on 2012 levels.
The regulation follows on an announcement two weeks ago of a new ambitious plan to tackle the climate change introduced by the administration of US President Barack Obama.
Reducing emissions of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, would help the US achieve its commitment to the United Nations to cut its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.
Methane emissions in the US are currently on the rise due to the continuing natural gas boom. According to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy the methane emissions are projected to rise by more than 25 per cent by 2025 even though the industry has decreased methane emissions by 16 per cent since 1990.
Methane is frequently leaking from oil and gas production facilities and is being systematically vented from the wells. Methods to limit the methane emissions exist - including infrared cameras and seals for compressors - but producers are so far not obliged to adopt the technology.
"The challenge is very large, but the opportunity to make a difference is equally large," said Mark Brownstein, a vice president of climate and energy at the Environmental Defence Fund. However, 99 percent of the industry has failed to participate in voluntary programs, he added.
Industry groups believe that oil and gas companies have already made great strides in expanding production while keeping methane emissions in check. They say that requiring companies to purchase extra equipment is costly, especially as oil prices drop and particularly for smaller producers.
The American Petroleum Institute said last month that methane emissions from natural gas production were down 11 per cent since 2005.
Advocates for stricter methane rules have said capturing methane is mutually beneficial for oil and gas companies and would save them money in the long run.
"These measures pay off in a few months, not a few years," said Conrad Schneider of the Clean Air Task Force.