Eight Nations Join to Reduce Methane Emissions

WASHINGTON, DC, July 29, 2004 (ENS) – The Bush administration has unveiled a new agreement with seven other nations to reduce and capture methane emissions at landfills, coal mines, and oil and gas systems and utilize the recovered gas for energy. Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, one of six gases governed by the Kyoto Protocol.

The nations joining the United States in the Methane to Markets partnership are Australia, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, President George W. Bush announced Wednesday.

"Members of the partnership will work in coordination with the private sector to share and expand the use of technologies to capture methane emissions that are now wasted in the course of industrial processes and use them as a new energy source," said the President from his ranch in Crawford, Texas.


Methane can pose a threat to surrounding properties and the environment. Fires or explosions can occur when this landfill gas builds up underground. (Photo courtesy NJ Meadowlands Commission)
The specific details of the Methane to Markets initiative will be established and formalized through further discussion between participating member countries – the first ministerial-level meeting of founding partners will not be held until November.

The partnership has “the double benefit of capturing the second most abundant greenhouse gas and turning it to productive use as a clean burning fuel,” said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Leavitt, who has been tapped to lead the partnership.

“Together we will harness the power of collaboration, technology and markets to achieve verifiable reductions of global methane emissions,” Leavitt said at a media event including officials from the Energy Department, the State Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development as well as representatives of partner nations.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the partnership will "focus on deployment of best practices and commercial technologies to recover methane, a valuable energy resource. Recovering methane, and converting it into a usable energy source, is not only in our best environmental interest, but could also be a key piece of our energy security puzzle."

Environmentalists say the plan has merit, but contend it is overshadowed by the Bush administration’s opposition to mandatory reductions of the leading greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2).

C02 accounts for some 80 percent of human generated greenhouse gas emissions, which the vast majority of scientists say are responsible for global warming. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, accounts for 16 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities, according to the EPA.


Coal seam methane aflame in New South Wales, Australia (Photo courtesy NSW Mineral Resources)
Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from the decomposition of organic wastes in municipal solid waste landfills, and the raising of livestock.

Methane is an important factor in the global warming equation, in particular because the gas traps more than 21 times more heat per molecule in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over a 100 year period.

Officials say the new international program has the potential to reduce net global methane emissions by up to 50 million metric tons of carbon equivalent annually by 2015.

This would be the carbon equivalent of removing 33 million cars from roadways for one year or eliminating emissions from 50 coal-fired power plants, according to the administration.

Secretary Abraham said it would have the environmental benefit of "planting 55 million acres of trees, or eliminating emissions from fifty 500-megawatt electric plants."

In terms of energy security, capturing methane holds the promise of providing enough energy to heat approximately 7.2 million households for one year, Abraham said.


Methane is recovered from the old landfill in Pennsylvania through a series of pipes and recovery wells. (Photo courtesy Pennsylvania DEP)
The initiative will focus on deploying cost-effective technologies in landfill gas-to-energy projects, methane recovery projects at coal mines, and improvements in natural gas systems. The United States has used similar projects to cut its methane emissions more than five percent in the past decade.

The Methane to Markets idea was introduced by the White House at the G8 Sea Island Summit in June, where it received a nod but little added attention.

Its success will rely on cooperation between the public and private sectors, said Paula Dobriansky, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs.

“This new partnership among developed and developing countries - with its emphasis on practical solutions and strong participation from the private sector - will produce energy efficiency, increase safety, and provide significant, near-term economic and environmental benefits for addressing global climate change,” Dobriansky said.

Many countries already have methane projects underway. The Bioenergy Company of Japan plans to construct a power plant in Tokyo Bay to recycle food waste as part of its methane fermentation power generation project, part of the Tokyo government's Super Eco-Town Project. The plant will come on-stream in fiscal 2005.

President Bush said today that the United States will commit up to $53 million over the next five years for the initiative, but the administration has not yet made a formal Congressional request for the funding.

Find out more on the EPA website at: http://www.epa.gov/methane/international.asp