Controlling Industrial Greenhouse Gas Emissions

At-a-glance

  • About one-fifth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from industry.
  • Oil and gas production is the largest manmade source of methane in the United States.
  • The Trump administration has proposed revising or rescinding regulations limiting industrial sector emissions.

About one-fifth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come directly from industrial sources, such as manufacturing, food processing, mining, and construction. These direct emissions result from diverse processes, including the on-site combustion of fossil fuels for heat and power, non-energy use of fossil fuels, and chemical processes used in iron, steel, and cement production.

In addition, industry generates indirect emissions from the centrally generated electricity it consumes. The industrial sector makes up about one quarter of total U.S. electricity sales. If direct and indirect emissions are combined, the industrial sector is the largest emitting sector in the U.S. economy, responsible for 29.3 percent of total emissions.

Energy-related CO2 Emissions from Industry, 2019

Reducing Industrial Emissions

There are many ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the industrial sector, including energy efficiency, fuel switching, combined heat and power, use of renewable energy, and the more efficient use and recycling of materials. Many industrial processes have no existing low-emission alternative and will require carbon capture and storage to reduce emissions over the long term.

Oil and Gas Production

Oil and gas production is the United States’ largest manmade source of methane, the second biggest driver of climate change. In the production process, methane can leak unintentionally. It also can be intentionally released or vented to the atmosphere for safety reasons at the wellhead or to reduce pressure from equipment or pipelines.

In August 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed changes that would effectively rescind the 2016 oil and gas New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) under Section 111 (b) of the Clean Air Act. EPA proposes to remove transmission and storage segments from covered oil and gas source categories, rescind NSPS applicable to those sources, and rescind methane-specific requirements for the production and processing segments under Section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act.

The methane rule was adopted in May 2016, requiring operators of new oil and gas wells to find and repair leaks; capture natural gas from the completion of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells; and limit emissions from new and modified pneumatic pumps, and from several types of equipment used at natural gas transmission compressor stations, including compressors and pneumatic controllers. At the time, EPA estimated this rule could prevent the emission of 510,000 short tons of methane in 2025 (the equivalent of 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide) in addition to reducing other harmful air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs, which are ozone-forming pollutants).

Regardless of the regulatory approach, EPA continues to work with industry and states through its voluntary Natural Gas STAR program to reduce methane from existing oil and gas operations.

In addition, in August 2018, the Department of Interior finalized changes that rescinded the 2016 methane emissions rule from wells on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Indian lands. The 2016 rule was the first-ever limits for flaring of natural gas as well as increased disclosure requirements. It prohibited venting except in specified circumstances and require pre-drill planning for leak reduction and increased use of leak-detection technology.

Other Industrial Sources

Other industrial sectors, such as refineries and cement kilns, have been regulated for certain pollutants, including particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and dioxides of nitrogen (NOx), since the Clean Air Act became law in 1970.

Sec. 111 of the act requires the regulation of pollution from new, modified, and reconstructed facilities through the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) program. NSPS are technology-based standards that apply to specific categories of stationary sources. NSPS for pollutants are regularly strengthened by EPA to safeguard human health and the environment as technology advances and new pollution controls become more economically feasible.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to establish New Source Performance Standards for greenhouse gas emissions from all significant emitting subsectors, as was clarified in the U.S. Supreme Court case Massachusetts v. EPA.