Even Modest Fees Could Produce Substantial Reductions in Methane Leaks at Low Cost

A new issue brief from Resources for the Future examines the economic effects of a range of methane fees, finding that incentivizing natural gas companies to reduce methane leaks could create benefits at relatively low cost.


Sept. 9, 2021

News Type

Press Release

A new issue brief released today finds that fees on methane emissions from the oil and gas system would have small effects on natural gas prices while incentivizing companies to reduce methane leaks. Reducing the emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from the oil and gas system is a key component of many proposed emissions reduction policies.

“Like a carbon tax, a methane fee is a policy option that many economists see as a cost-effective approach to reducing emissions,” author and RFF Fellow Brian Prest said. “Right now, emitters do not have sufficient financial incentive to reduce methane emissions because the market value of the lost methane is much smaller than the environmental costs. Policy will likely be needed to reduce the amount of this powerful greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.”

The Biden administration recently rolled back a Trump-era rule that allowed natural gas producers to release more methane than allowed under the Obama administration. However, the US Environmental Protection Agency has indicated that it is looking to further clamp down on methane emissions. One target could be methane leaks, which occur along the natural gas supply chain and release approximately 13 million metric tons of methane per year. A fee on methane leaks, which would put a price on each ton of methane unintentionally released into the atmosphere from the oil and gas system, could incentivize oil and gas companies to tighten up their supply chains.

Prest used a simple economic model to estimate the effects of several proposed methane fees on leakage rates, the cost of natural gas production, and the increase in wholesale natural gas rates. By fully measuring the effect of methane fees across the entire natural gas supply chain, Prest calculated the following central estimates for a range of possible methane fees:

  • A $500/ton methane fee would increase wholesale natural gas prices by $0.07–0.10/MMBtu. A $2,000/ton methane fee would increase wholesale natural gas prices by $0.18–$0.26/MMBtu. These increases amount to about 5 percent of current wholesale gas prices and about 1 percent of retail residential gas prices.
  • A low methane fee of $500/ton of methane could nearly cut the leak rate in half. Higher fees achieve larger reductions, but with diminishing returns. A $2,000/ton fee could reduce the leak rate by 70 percent.
  • A fee assessed on an incomplete measure of methane emissions, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s existing inventory and reporting programs, would have smaller impacts on both prices and leak rates.

The issue brief also includes estimates for several other possible methane fees between $500/ton and $2,000/ton.

“All in all, the impacts of methane fees on natural gas prices are likely to be small,” Prest said. “Importantly, they also suggest that substantial reductions in methane leaks are possible even with modest fees. And because reducing methane emissions affect the climate much more rapidly than does CO2, reducing methane emissions can help us achieve quick reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to achieve near-term targets.”

For more, read the issue brief, “Methane Fees’ Effects on Natural Gas Prices and Methane Leakage,” by RFF Fellow Brian C. Prest.

Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Its mission is to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. RFF is committed to being the most widely trusted source of research insights and policy solutions leading to a healthy environment and a thriving economy.

Unless otherwise stated, the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and may differ from those of other RFF experts, its officers, or its directors. RFF does not take positions on specific legislative proposals.

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