Oil & Gas Methane Emissions: Another EPA Deregulation

Oil and Gas Tanks
September 17, 2019
By Laurie Toupin

The Trump administration is proposing yet another cutback of environmental regulations. This time, the administration is loosening federal rules on methane gas emissions.

Instead of government regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it plans to have companies police themselves when it comes to preventing this greenhouse gas from leaking out of wells, pipelines and other related infrastructure.

Although methane does not stay as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, it can be up to 80 times more potent (note that this number varies according to the source).

The gas is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from livestock and other agricultural practices and by the decay of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills. As of 2017, EPA says that it contributed to 10% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly a third of those emissions were generated by the natural gas and petroleum industry.

In its press release, the EPA claims that “the proposal would remove regulatory duplication and save the industry millions of dollars in compliance costs each year – while maintaining health and environmental regulations on oil and gas sources that the agency considers appropriate.”

What the Proposal Says

There are two parts to the EPA’s proposed ruling.

Its primary goal is to “remove sources in the transmission and storage segment of the oil and gas industry from regulation. These sources include transmission compressor stations, pneumatic controllers, and underground storage vessels.”

This removes regulations imposed by the Obama administration, which the Trump administration claims were not constitutional.

The proposal also would rescind emission limits for methane, from the production and processing segments of the industry, but would keep emissions limits for ozone-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

These sources include well completions, pneumatic pumps, pneumatic controllers, gathering and boosting compressors, natural gas processing plants and storage tanks.

The EPA says that because the controls to reduce VOCs emissions also reduce methane, separate methane limitations are redundant, and therefore, not necessary.

In an alternative proposal, EPA would rescind the methane emissions limitations without removing from regulation any sources from the transmission and storage segment of the industry.

And if the methane deregulation wasn’t enough for one announcement, the agency also announced that it is “seeking comment on alternative interpretations of EPA’s legal authority to regulate pollutants under section 111(b)(1)(A) of the Clean Air Act.”

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler stated that: “The Trump Administration recognizes that methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimize leaks and maximize its use. Since 1990, natural gas production in the United States has almost doubled while methane emissions across the natural gas industry have fallen by nearly 15%. Our regulations should not stifle this innovation and progress.”

Not surprisingly, there are many contrasting opinions regarding the proposal, both within and without the oil and gas industry.

Small oil and gas companies, who lobbied for the change, welcome the move. A Washington Post article, Trump administration to relax restrictions on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, says: “Lee Fuller, a vice president at the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said in an interview that the Obama rule had ‘made it really onerous on small businesses.’”

While on the opposite side of the spectrum, Susan Dio, Chairman and President of BP America, is quoted in the same article, saying: “that the EPA should regulate methane emissions. ‘It’s not only the right thing to do for the environment, there is also a clear business case for doing this…The more gas we keep in our pipes and equipment, the more we can provide to the market — and the faster we can all move toward a lower-carbon future.”

Comments will be accepted 60 days once the ruling is published in the Federal Register. A final ruling is expected in the next few months.

If interested, more information, including a pre-publication version of the Federal Register notice and a fact sheet, can be found at https://www.epa.gov/controlling-air-pollution-oil-and-natural-gas-industry/proposed-policy-amendments-2012-and-2016-new

Author

Laurie Toupin