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California Air Regulators Eye Methane Emissions From Oil, Ag

Jan 20, 2015

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Credit Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

California's air regulators are increasingly turning their attention to a greenhouse gas that has largely gone overlooked - methane. 

According to the U.S. EPA, when it comes to climate change, methane emissions have an impact 20 times greater than CO2 emissions, pound for pound.

That's why Governor Jerry Brown singled out the gas during his inaugural address this month as part of his plan to combat climate change. 

Brown: "We must also reduce the relentless release of methane, black carbon and other potent pollutants across industries."

Last year Brown signed a law to reduce methane leaks from gas pipelines, but Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols tells Valley Public Radio the problem doesn't stop there. 

Nichols: "It relates not only to the entire oil and gas production cycle but also to landfills, to agriculture, to waste materials of any kind that are essentially decomposing."

That's why her agency is currently in the middle of a year-long study to develop a statewide plan to regulate methane emissions. But Nichols says the impact would extend beyond reducing global warming. 

Nichols: "There are multiple benefits when you can control a pollutant like methane you're getting benefits not only for climate change where it's a very potent climate gas but also for safety and air quality on the ground as well."

Nichols says the study should be done by the end of the year. 

Last year, NASA scientists released imagery tracking methane hotspots across the U.S. using satellite measurements. It identified several hotspots, including one in the Four Corners region, and another in the San Joaquin Valley.