EPA issues first-ever standards to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector

Agency also starting process to control emissions from existing sources

Posted May 17, 2016

On May 12, EPA announced it is taking comprehensive steps to address methane emissions from both new and existing sources in the oil and gas sector.

For new, modified and reconstructed sources, EPA is finalizing a set of standards that will reduce methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and toxic air emissions in the oil and natural gas industry. EPA is also starting the process to control emissions from existing sources by issuing for public comment an Information Collection Request (ICR) that requires companies to provide the information that will be necessary for EPA to reduce methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources.

Methane, the key constituent of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas (GHG) with a global warming potential more than 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. According to EPA, methane is the second most prevalent GHG emitted in the United States from human activities, and nearly one-third of those emissions comes from oil production and the production, transmission, and distribution of natural gas.

The agency says the final standards will significantly curb methane emissions from new, reconstructed, and modified processes and equipment, along with reducing VOC emissions from sources not covered in the agency’s 2012 rules. These sources include hydraulically fractured oil wells, some of which can contain a large amount of gas along with oil, and equipment used across the industry that was not regulated in the 2012 rules.

After reviewing more than 900,000 comments received on its August 2015 proposal, EPA updated a number of aspects in the final rule that include removing an exemption for low production wells and requiring leak monitoring surveys twice as often at compressor stations, which have the potential for significant emissions. The final rule also provides companies a pathway to align the final standards with comparable state-specific requirements they may have.

The final actions also include two rules that clarify permitting requirements for the oil and natural gas industry: the Source Determination Rule and a final federal implementation plan for the Minor New Source Review Program in Indian Country.

Over the past year, new science and data have shown that methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources are substantially higher than was previously understood. Therefore, EPA is issuing an ICR that seeks a broad range of information, including the types of technologies that could be used to reduce emissions and their associated costs. The information the agency receives in response to the ICR will provide the foundation for developing regulations to reduce methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources.

EPA will collect the information through a general survey for all owners/operators of existing sources and a more detailed survey for specific facilities. EPA anticipates receiving data from the operator survey later this year and expects to conclude all aspects of the ICR in the first part of 2017. In addition, the agency is announcing plans to issue a voluntary Request for Information to seek information on innovative strategies that can accurately and cost-effectively locate, measure, and mitigate methane emissions.

More information, including technical fact sheets, is available on the EPA website.


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