Methane Capture: Options for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Page: 5 of 24
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Methane Capture: Options for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction
In the climate change policy debate, methane capture projects have garnered attention for their
ability to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Methane capture projects prevent the release of
methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. The captured methane is generally flared
or used for energy purposes.' The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified
four sources of methane with the greatest potential for capture in the near term: landfills, coal
mines, agriculture, and oil and gas systems. The amount of methane captured from each will
depend on legislative developments, economics, technology, and outreach.
Methane (CH4) constituted approximately 8% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2007.2
Anthropogenic (human-related) sources of methane in the United States include enteric
fermentation,3 landfills, natural gas systems, coal mines, and manure management. Efforts to
reduce emissions of methane-the second-most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide
(CO2)-could play a significant role in climate change mitigation.
This report will discuss the policy options for addressing methane capture (and their
implications), legislative proposals for methane capture, domestic and international sources of
methane, opportunities and challenges for methane capture, and federal programs that support
Policy Options for Addressing Methane Capture
Congress may employ multiple strategies to encourage or require methane capture as part of
climate change legislation: market-based approaches, such as a cap-and-trade program or
emissions fees; carbon offsets or credits as a complementary design element of a market-based
approach; emission performance standards; and/or maintaining existing programs and incentives.4
Policymakers may consider using different strategies for different methane emission sources.
These strategies and related issues are discussed below.
Market-Based Emission Control Programs
One option for policymakers is to include methane emission sources as covered entities in a
market-based greenhouse gas (GHG) emission control program. Market-based mechanisms that
limit GHG emissions can be divided into two types: those that focus on quantity control (e.g., a
cap-and-trade program) and those that focus on price control (e.g., emissions fees, often called a
1 Flaring is the combustion of the gas without commercial purposes. Flaring produces carbon dioxide which is a less
potent greenhouse gas than methane.
2 Environmental Protection Agency, 2009 U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report, April 2009, http://www.epa.gov/
3 Enteric fermentation is the production and release of methane via eructation (burping) and flatulence as ruminant
animals digest their feed.
4 The climate-changing impact of multiple greenhouse gases is commonly measured and compared using their global
warming potential as expressed in units of carbon dioxide equivalent. Therefore, many concepts and actions are
preceded with the word carbon which may actually account for an assortment of greenhouse gases in both quantity and
quality (e.g., carbon tax, carbon offset).
Congressional Research Service
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Methane Capture: Options for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction, report, February 1, 2010; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc809768/m1/5/: accessed December 16, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.