Controlling Industrial Greenhouse Gas Emissions

At-a-glance

  • About a 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.
  • Regulations limiting industrial sector emissions are being reviewed by the Trump Administration.

About a 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.

U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector

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.

To reduce methane emissions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted a rule in May 2016 under Section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act that requires 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. EPA estimates 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).

EPA also works collaboratively with industry and states through its voluntary Natural Gas STAR program to reduce methane from existing oil and gas operations.

In addition, on January 22, 2016, the Department of the Interior proposed a Methane Waste and Reduction Rule to reduce methane emissions from all wells on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Indian lands. It proposed the first-ever limits for flaring of natural gas as well as increased disclosure requirements. The proposal would prohibit venting except in specified circumstances and require pre-drill planning for leak reduction and increased use of leak-detection technology.

The Trump Administration has indicated it will review and possibly rescind these regulations, and it is not clear how it will address the government’s legal obligations to reduce emissions from oil and gas production.

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. It is not clear how the Trump Administration will address these emission sources.