Oil and Gas Methane Pollution

  • National Wildlife Federation Staff
  • Nov 16, 2016

Methane gas pollution is a serious threat to wildlife. As a climate “super pollutant,” methane has over 80 times the climate altering potential as carbon dioxide (CO2) in the near term (over the next two decades), and is the second leading cause of climate change behind CO2. Fortunately, steps can be taken to protect wildlife by dramatically reducing methane pollution from its leading source, the oil and gas industry. This report outlines the wildlife-related threats posed by uncontrolled methane pollution from oil and gas operations and details how we can significantly curtail this threat while capturing a valuable resource that is now being wasted.

Wildlife are under siege from human-caused climate change, which is accelerating at an alarming rate. Changes to our climate are having profound impacts on critical wildlife habitat, causing habitat ranges to shift or be lost, increasing incidence of pests and invasive species, decreasing available food and water, and speeding the rate of species extinction. Indeed, climate change is partly to blame for a mass extinction event that some scientists say is now underway.

Examples of current climate impacts to wildlife and associated outdoor recreation are already troubling:

  • Cold weather-dependent moose are declining dramatically in northern states as milder winters fail to kill parasitic ticks.
  • Trout streams in the West are becoming too warm in many months to support fishing, threatening key species like bull trout and cutthroat trout. For instance, bull trout in Montana are at risk of losing up to 92 percent of their suitable habitat.
  • Bat species could disappear from their maternal range (range used by female bats when raising their young) in the Cuyahoga National Park and other places in the Northeast if warming trends continue.
  • Warmer, dryer summers and warmer, shorter winters in our national parks are allowing mountain pine beetles to thrive and destroy vast swaths of publicly owned forests.
  • A massive fish kill has recently broken out in the Yellowstone River in part because waters were too warm and shallow.

Methane is the chief component of natural gas, and is also a by-product of some oil production. Methane accounts for more than one-tenth of the greenhouse gases released due to human activity, with the oil and gas sector comprising the largest industrial source of that pollution. Much of this pollution is pure waste.

Throughout the oil and gas supply chains, an enormous amount of methane is often either intentionally vented or flared into the atmosphere or allowed to escape through leaky wells, pipes, pumps, and other equipment. This is not only polluting the atmosphere, it is wasting enough fuel to provide heat for 6.5 million homes. Methane pollution is a problem we can solve with cost-effective measures. The U.S. has adopted a goal to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by 40-45 percent by 2025. This goal can be met.

This report makes the following recommendations, which should be implemented by this Administration and the next to curtail the methane threat to wildlife:

  • Propose, finalize, and implement strong Environmental Protection Agency rules limiting methane pollution from existing sources in the oil and gas industry.
  • Successfully implement recent federal rules limiting methane pollution from new and modified oil and gas sources.
  • Finalize a proposed rule by the Bureau of Land Management that would substantially curtail methane waste from both existing and new sources of gas and oil production on public and tribal lands.
  • Continue to support state efforts to reduce methane pollution from oil and gas operations, such as the strong standards in place in Colorado.
  • Continue to support voluntary efforts that produce results.

Oil and Gas Methane Pollution

An Invisible Threat to Wildlife and Economic Opportunity for Communities


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