A gas flare outside Williston, North Dakota.
Andrew Burton | Getty Images

Congressional Democrats this week urged the Environmental Projection Agency to strengthen its proposal to regulate planet-warming methane gas emissions from the country’s oil and gas sector.

The letter, led by Sen. Martin Heinrich, N.M. and Rep. Diana DeGette, Colo., and signed by a total of 76 lawmakers, said the agency’s proposal needs to tighten restrictions on routine gas flaring, or the process of burning excess natural gas at an oil well.

The letter was made public shortly after the head of the International Energy Agency on Tuesday said oil and gas companies are not making sufficient efforts to curb methane emissions and are undermining a global agreement to slash methane pollution by 30% by the end of the decade.

Methane, a key component of natural gas, is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to warming the atmosphere, but it doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere before it breaks down. Scientists have warned that methane outputs need to be curbed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

A recent study published in the journal Science suggested that oil field flaring emits nearly five times more methane than previously thought. The process often doesn’t completely burn the methane, and in some cases, flares are extinguished and not reignited, causing the methane to release into the atmosphere.

“While the supplemental proposal takes some important steps to reduce pollution from routine flaring of gas at oil wells, stricter safeguards against this harmful practice are critical to reduce pollution and protect health,” Democrats wrote in the letter.

Lawmakers noted that alternatives to flaring are readily available, adding that states such as Alaska, Colorado and New Mexico have already imposed policies to mitigate pollution from flaring. They also advised the EPA to update the rule to clarify and define when flaring can occur during emergencies and maintenance.

“EPA must build on the leadership of these states and prohibit routine flaring except for safety emergencies and maintenance reasons,” they wrote. “Additional clarification and definitions regarding each of these exceptions should also be provided.”

Last November, during the U.N. Climate Change Conference known as COP27, the EPA released an updated proposal to regulate methane from the oil and gas industry. The rule marks the first time the federal government would require existing production facilities to target and fix methane leaks.

The agency has said the updated rule would curb methane emissions from oil and production by 87% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade.

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