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Posted by October 19, 2014

Can Oil & Gas Superpower Lead on Climate Change?


A day before President Barack Obama addressed the United Nations to declare the nation is "stepping up to the plate" to tackle climate change, nearly 400,000 protesters jammed New York City streets in a climate change march. Many held signs calling for an end to fracking.

Environmental activists see the U.S. natural gas and oil production boom, spurred by fracking, as a major contributor to global warming. Obama has lauded the country's shale boom as an economic boon and a geopolitical lever.

But Obama administration officials told the Reuters Global Climate Change Summit this week that the United States can be an energy superpower and still provide global leadership on climate.

"Whatever you do, you have people who are going to drive their cars," said Jonathan Pershing, the Energy Department's deputy assistant secretary for climate change policy. "You have people who want to heat their homes and you're not going to turn those things off."

Since it is impossible to immediately stop all use of fossil fuels use, the administration has focused on developing the country's energy resources while also moving toward a lower-carbon economy, he said.

The White House's goal is to "make that transition work in a way that maintains reliability and reduces emissions," Pershing said.

U.S. oil and gas production has soared as drilling techniques including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, unlocked access to massive shale reserves.

Surging shale output has put the United States on track to pass Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world's largest producer of crude oil and to become a major exporter of natural gas.

The Environmental Protection Agency is working to cut carbon emissions from the country's largest source, power plants. Still, green groups warn that those gains could vanish without reductions in methane emissions from oil and gas production.

Environmentalists have urged the EPA to issue mandatory curbs on the industry's emissions of the potent greenhouse gas.

"We don't want to see the continuation of the high levels of (methane) leakage that erode the benefit of the power plant standard," David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said last month after a coalition of green groups sent a letter to the White House calling for federal methane standards.

Shaun Donovan, director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, said methane is now a "significant focus" of the administration.

"We are looking very, very closely at this issue and studying it in detail," Donovan said at the summit, held at Reuters' offices in Washington.

Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for air and radiation at the EPA, who would oversee any potential rule making on methane, said the agency expects to release recommendations later this fall.

She did not say whether the agency is leaning toward a voluntary or regulatory approach, but expressed confidence that the government and the gas industry would be able to bring methane leaks under control.

"EPA is convinced that development of natural gas can and should be done in a way that's safe and captures to a significant degree methane emissions," said McCabe.

Follow Reuters Summits on Twitter @Reuters_Summits

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; editing by Ros Krasny and David Gregorio)

ReutersObama AdministrationUnited States