White House announces new methane emissions regulations on oil and gas industry

White House officials on Wednes­day, Jan. 14, unveiled plans to impose new regulations on the oil and gas in­dustry’s emissions of methane, building on its “Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions” released in March 2014.

“Today, the administration is an­nouncing a new goal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025, and a set of actions to put the U.S. on a path to achieve this ambitious goal,” the White House said in a press release. “The administration is an­nouncing a series of steps encompass­ing both commonsense standards and cooperative engagement with states, tribes and industry to put us on a path toward the 2025 goal.”

Part of the administration’s plan was set in motion by the Environmental Protection Agency’s issuance of stan­dards for volatile organic compounds (VOC).

“EPA will issue a rulemaking ef­fort to set standards for methane and VOC emissions from new and modi­fied oil and gas production sources, and natural gas processing and transmis­sion sources. … These standards, when fully implemented, are expected to re­duce 190,000 to 290,000 tons of VOC and decrease methane emissions in an amount equivalent to 33 million tons of carbon pollution per year. The stan­dards not only relied on technologies and practices already in widespread use in the oil and gas sector, but also incor­porated innovative regulatory flexibil­ity. … As it did in the 2012 standards, the agency, in developing the proposal and final standards, will focus on in-use technologies, current industry practices, emerging innovations and streamlined and flexible regulatory approaches to ensure that emissions reductions can be achieved as oil and gas production and operations continue to grow.”

The EPA will issue a proposed rule in the summer of 2015 and a final rule in 2016, the release states. The EPA will also develop new guidelines to as­sist states in reducing ozone-forming pollutants from existing oil and gas systems in areas that do not meet the ozone health standard and in states in the Ozone Transport Region to “help states that are developing clean air ozone plans by providing a ready-to-adopt control measure that they can include in those plans.”

“The EPA will continue to promote transparency and accountability for existing sources by strengthening its Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program to require reporting in all segments of the industry,” which will not only final­ize the updates to the program EPA has already proposed by the end of 2015, but also explore potential regulatory op­portunities for applying remote sensing technologies and other innovations in measurement and monitoring technolo­gy to “further improve the identification and quantification of emissions and im­prove the overall accuracy and transpar­ency of reported data cost-effectively,” White House officials said in the release.

The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will also update decades-old standards to reduce wasteful venting, flaring and leaks of natural gas, which is primarily meth­ane, from oil and gas wells, according to the release.

“These standards, to be proposed this spring, will address both new and exist­ing oil and gas wells on public lands. This action will enhance our energy se­curity and economy by boosting Amer­ica’s natural gas supplies, ensuring that taxpayers receive the royalties due to them from development of public re­sources, and reducing emissions. BLM will work closely with EPA to ensure an integrated approach,” the release states.

White House officials said the presi­dent’s FY16 Budget will propose $15 million in funding for the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop and dem­onstrate more cost-effective technolo­gies to detect and reduce losses from natural gas transmission and distribu­tion systems, including efforts to re­pair leaks and develop next generation compressors. The budget will also pro­pose $10 million to launch a program at DOE to enhance the quantification of emissions from natural gas infra­structure for inclusion in the national Greenhouse Gas Inventory in coordi­nation with EPA.

In addition, the administration will soon release the first installment of its Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), which “focuses specifically on policy actions that are needed to help mod­ernize energy transmission, storage, and distribution infrastructure. This in­stallment of the QER will include ad­ditional policy recommendations and analysis on the environmental, safety, and economic benefits of investments that reduce natural gas system leakage,” the release states.

Response from natural gas industry

Marty Durbin, president and chief executive officer of America’s Natu­ral Gas Alliance, a non-profit that, according to its website, works with industry, government and customer stakeholders to promote increased de­mand for and continued availability of … abundant natural gas resources for a cleaner and more secure energy future and represents 21 oil and gas compa­nies nationwide, responded in a press release following the administration’s announcement that it will impose new methane regulations on natural gas producers.

“We are disappointed the adminis­tration is choosing to take a regula­tory approach that will take years to implement, rather than a cooperative approach with the industry that we believe will ultimately result in great­er emissions reductions in a shorter timeframe,” Durbin said. “The natu­ral gas industry has demonstrated its ability to significantly reduce meth­ane emissions and our commitment to making further reductions through innovation. Natural gas production is up 37 percent since 1990, yet across the entire natural gas sector, methane emissions are down 17 percent. In fact, EPA data shows that from 2011-2013, methane emissions from hydraulically fractured natural gas wells declined by 73 percent.

“We agree with the White House that voluntary efforts to reduce emis­sions in a comprehensive and transpar­ent manner hold the potential to real­ize significant, quick and cost effective emissions reductions, and we question why the administration would single out our sector for regulation, given our demonstrated reductions. Given that methane is also the product we sell and, therefore, want to capture, this was an opportunity to work with willing part­ners toward a shared goal.

“Greater use of natural gas has re­sulted in steep reductions in carbon emissions, and has greatly reduced air pollutants such as SOx, NOx, mercury and particulate matter. The administra­tion itself has credited natural gas as a significant factor in achieving the pres­ident’s climate goals, and they’re right.

“We hope the agency will take into consideration the dramatic im­provements the industry has already achieved, and will continue to achieve as the administration’s regulatory pro­cess moves forward.”