Enforcement and Inspection

EPA Proposes Methane Emissions Reduction Rule

In response to the U.S. and E.U. pledge to slash methane emissions worldwide 30% by 2030 at COP26 in Glasgow, on November 2, 2021, the EPA announced a proposed rule to cut methane emissions, including reductions from existing sources nationwide.

“As global leaders convene at this pivotal moment in Glasgow for COP26, it is now abundantly clear that America is back and leading by example in confronting the climate crisis with bold ambition,” says EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan.  “With this historic action, EPA is addressing existing sources from the oil and natural gas industry nationwide, in addition to updating rules for new sources, to ensure robust and lasting cuts in pollution across the country. By building on existing technologies and encouraging innovative new solutions, we are committed to a durable final rule that is anchored in science and the law, that protects communities living near oil and natural gas facilities, and that advances our nation’s climate goals under the Paris Agreement.”

“The proposed rule would reduce 41 million tons of methane emissions from 2023 to 2035, the equivalent of 920 million metric tons of carbon dioxide,” says an EPA news release. “That’s more than the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from all U.S. passenger cars and commercial aircraft in 2019. In 2030 alone, the rule would reduce methane emissions from sources covered in the proposal by 74 percent compared to 2005.”

Key features of the proposed new Clean Air Act (CAA) rule include:

  • A comprehensive monitoring program for new and existing well sites and compressor stations;
  • A compliance option that gives owners and operators the flexibility to use advanced technology that can find major leaks more rapidly and at a lower cost than ever before; 
  • A zero-emissions standard for new and existing pneumatic controllers (with a limited alternative standard for sites in Alaska), certain types of which account for approximately 30% of current methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector;
  • Standards to eliminate venting of associated gas, and require capture and sale of gas where a sales line is available, at new and existing oil wells;
  • Proposed performance standards and presumptive standards for other new and existing sources, including storage tanks, pneumatic pumps, and compressors; and
  • A requirement that states meaningfully engage with overburdened and underserved communities, among other stakeholders, in developing state plans.

As part of the proposed rule, the EPA is also seeking information on additional sources of methane that will further reduce emissions and structuring community monitoring programs to allow the public to detect and report large emissions events.

“EPA analyzed the proposed rule’s impact on natural gas and oil prices from 2023 to 2035 and estimates that changes would be small – pennies per barrel of oil or thousand cubic feet of gas,” the news release adds. “EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis estimates the value of cumulative net climate benefits from the proposed rule, after taking into account the costs of compliance as well as savings from recovered natural gas, is $48 to $49 billion from 2023 to 2035 ­- the equivalent of about $4.5 billion a year. The climate benefits are estimated using the social cost of greenhouse gases and represent the monetary value of avoided climate damages associated with a decrease in emissions of a greenhouse gas. In addition to these benefits, EPA estimates that from 2023 to 2035, the proposal would reduce VOC emissions by 12 million tons and hazardous air pollution by 480,000 tons.

“It would accomplish this through 1) updated and broadened methane and VOC (volatile organic compounds) emission reduction requirements for new, modified, and reconstructed oil and gas sources, including standards that limit emissions from additional types of sources (such as intermittent vent pneumatic controllers, associated gas, and well liquids unloading) for the first time under the [CAA]; and 2) requirements that states develop plans to limit methane emissions from hundreds of thousands of existing sources nationwide, along with presumptive standards for existing sources to assist in the planning process.”

The proposed rule will be available for public comment for 60 days from its publication date in the Federal Register.