(Adds reaction from oil industry, environmental groups)
By Roberta Rampton and Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, March 28 (Reuters) - The White House said on Friday it will take a hard look at whether new regulations are needed to cut emissions of methane from the oil and gas industry, part of President Barack Obama's plan to address climate change.
The suggestion drew a sharp rebuke from the main oil and gas lobby group. The American Petroleum Institute said its members were already taking steps that will cut emissions and expressed concern that more regulations could put a damper on natural gas drilling by raising costs.
But environmental groups said the plan was a good first step to making sure that all players took action to reduce methane emissions. The greenhouse gas is 84 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the first 20 years after being released, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The White House said regulators will propose new rules later this year to reduce venting and flaring from oil and gas wells on public lands, one way to begin cutting emissions of methane.
However, most oil and gas production takes place on privately owned land. So the Environmental Protection Agency is going to study this year whether additional, broader regulations are needed for methane emissions under the Clean Air Act, said Dan Utech, Obama's top energy and climate aide.
If the agency deems more regulations are needed, they will be completed before Obama leaves the White House at the end of 2016.
The president has set he wants to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020.
"This methane strategy is one component, one set of actions the administration is going to take to get there," Utech told reporters on a conference call.
Methane is the main component of natural gas. It is also released by dairy farms, landfills and coal mines.
The EPA will propose additional regulations for methane produced by new landfills in coming months, and will consider updating rules for existing landfills, the White House said.
Next month, regulators will gather comment on developing a program to curb methane emissions from coal mines on land leased from the federal government
The government will also work with the dairy industry on voluntary measures to cut emissions from their barns, the White House said.
But the biggest part of its strategy looks at how to stop leaks of methane from natural gas wells and pipelines, which the White House said was responsible for 28 percent of U.S. methane emissions in 2012.
Recent studies have found that U.S. methane emissions have been higher than estimated by the EPA. A study led by Stanford University last month said emissions of the gas from the U.S. natural gas supply chain were nearly two times higher than current estimates.
In February, Colorado approved tough new rules to limit air pollution from oil and gas drilling in a deal first proposed last fall with energy producers Anadarko Petroleum, Noble Energy, Encana Corp and the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group.
Environmental groups praised the White House move as a good way to complement state and industry efforts.
"The most important work of turning this strategy into action lies ahead, but we are confident that the case for action is strong and will prove out in the end," Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement.
The EPA in coming months will issue a series of "white papers" to guide its next steps - studies that the American Petroleum Institute said it expects will show additional regulations are not required.
By January 2015, natural gas wells will be required by existing EPA regulations to use technology to reduce air pollution, including methane emissions, Howard Feldman, the lobby group's director of regulatory and scientific affairs, said in a telephone interview.
As the United States enjoys a boom in natural gas production many power plants have switched to the fuel, which releases half as much carbon dioxide as coal when burned.
"Somewhere that's gotten lost," Feldman said. (Additional reporting by Anna Driver in Houston; Editing by Ros Krasny, Meredith Mazzilli and Jonathan Oatis)
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