New EPA protections will limit methane and other harmful emissions from new oil and natural gas sites. Photo by Tim Evanson via Flickr 23165290@N00/9290350786/

Emissions of methane and other pollutants have been a vexing byproduct of the nation’s growing oil and natural gas industry. In a bid to slow harmful emissions and protect public health, the Environmental Protection Agency Thursday announced first-ever standards that require a new approach to minimize the threat.

EPA’s rule will reduce releases of methane, one of the leading contributors to climate change. According to the agency, this primary component of natural gas has a 25 times greater effect on warming the planet than carbon dioxide. And the oil and gas industry is the top source of methane emissions in the U.S. The changes will also limit discharges of toxic and cancer-causing pollutants, helping prevent asthma attacks, hospital admissions, cancer and premature death.

To meet its goal, the rule requires producers to install equipment to monitor and stop leaks at new drilling and processing sites, and conduct more frequent inspections, among other steps.

“EPA has taken a strong stand for protecting public health,” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, executive director of APHA, which had submitted comments supporting strong standards. “With rules now in place to reduce harmful emissions from new wells, pipelines and other installations, we urge the agency to develop standards to limit similar emissions from existing sources as well.”

To learn more about the methane rule, visit EPA’s Oil and Natural Gas Air Pollution Standards page.