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Friday, February 19, 2010

Methane Capture: Options for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction

Kelsi Bracmort
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Jonathan L. Ramseur
Specialist in Environmental Policy

James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Peter Folger
Specialist in Energy and Natural Resources Policy

Donald J. Marples
Specialist in Public Finance

Research on climate change has identified a wide array of sources that emit greenhouse gases (GHGs). Among the six gases that have generally been the primary focus of concern, methane is the second-most abundant, accounting for approximately 8% of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2007. Methane is emitted from a number of sources. The most significant are agriculture (both animal digestive systems and manure management); landfills; oil and gas production, refining, and distribution; and coal mining. 

As Congress considers legislation to address climate change by capping or reducing GHG emissions, methane capture projects offer an array of possible reduction opportunities, many of which utilize proven technologies. Methane capture projects (e.g., landfill gas projects, anaerobic digestion systems) restrict the release of methane into the atmosphere. The methane captured can be used for energy or flared. Methane capture challenges differ depending on the source. Most methane capture technologies face obstacles to implementation, including marginal economics in many cases, restricted pipeline access, and various legal issues. 

Some of the leading methane capture options under discussion include market-based emission control programs, carbon offsets, emission performance standards, and maintaining existing programs and incentives. At present, methane capture technologies are supported by tax incentives in some cases, by research and demonstration programs in others, by regulation in the case of the largest landfills, and by voluntary programs. Congress could decide to address methane capture in a number of different ways, including (1) determining the role of methane capture in climate change legislation; (2) determining whether methane capture should be addressed on an industry-by-industry basis; and (3) determining if current methane capture initiatives will be further advanced with legislative action regardless of other facets of the climate change policy debate. What role methane capture would play in prospective legislation to control GHGs—whether methane sources would be included among those covered by a cap-and-trade system, for example, whether they would be a source of emission offsets from sources not covered by cap-and-trade, or whether their emissions might be subject to regulation—is among the issues that Congress faces. 

A few government programs have supported the capture of methane to mitigate climate change. The Methane-to-Markets Partnership, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is an international initiative to reduce global methane emissions. EPA also oversees a variety of voluntary programs related to the Methane-to-Markets initiative (e.g., Coalbed Methane Outreach Program, Natural Gas STAR Program, Landfill Methane Outreach Program, AgSTAR Program). 

This report discusses legislative alternatives for addressing methane capture, sources of methane, opportunities and challenges for methane capture, and current federal programs that support methane recovery. 

Date of Report: February 1, 2010
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: R40813
Price: $29.95

Document available electronically as a pdf file or in paper form.
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