EPA proposes reducing methane leaks from oil and gas production

The regulations are part of Obama’s strategy to fight climate change.

 

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed yesterday to reduce emissions of methane from the oil and gas industry across the country, targeting new wells and equipment but also providing guidelines for existing wells and equipment in areas with poor air quality.

Oilfield pumpjack in west Texas.
Eric Kounce TexasRaiser

Methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas, and reigning in emissions is a key part of President Barack Obama’s strategy to combat climate change. The Obama administration wants to bolster oil and gas production while cleaning it up too. “This valuable resource must be developed responsibly and safely,” Janet McCabe, an acting assistant EPA administrator, says.

The EPA’s proposal also would reduce toxic volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, such as benzene, toluene and xylene, which can degrade regional air quality and cause acute health effects for people who live, work or play near wells and production equipment. Under the proposal, companies would be required to find and repair leaks; capture the gas that flows out during oil well completions, after companies drill and before they connect wells to pipelines; and limit methane leaks from equipment used in compressor stations. 

This rule is separate from the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan that was recently announced, and which proposes regulations for emissions from power plants.

In yesterday's announcement, the EPA also proposed updating the permitting process for oil and gas in tribal lands to limit harmful emissions for this rapidly growing industry.“If you put them together, (industry) reductions could be as high as 20 to 30 percent of national emissions of methane for 2012,” McCabe says.

The oil and gas industry is responsible for about 30 percent of methane emissions nationwide. But its representatives argue that they have been reducing emissions even while expanding production, so the EPA’s costly, bureaucratic proposal is unnecessary.

“The problem with EPA making mandatory what industry is already doing is that it simply adds bureaucratic layers that remove flexibility and innovation, while discouraging the development of the single most significant source of U.S. greenhouse gas reductions,” Kathleen Sgamma, a vice president of Western Energy Alliance, an industry group, says.

The EPA predicts its proposal would cost industry $320 million to $420 million but save more than that in reduced health impacts and other benefits.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who heads the Senate Environment Committee, called the rule “another example of the administration’s punitive expansion of their war on fossil fuels.”

Environmentalists applauded the administration for proposing the rule but said that more needs to be done to clean up existing wells and production equipment. These wells and equipment were grandfathered into the proposal, even though the EPA predicts they still will make up 90 percent of the problem in 2018.  

The question of how much methane leaks from oil and gas production has been the subject of hot debate in recent years. The debate is important because hydraulic fracturing and other drilling advances have encouraged a drilling boom. The combination of low natural gas prices and regulations has incentivized power companies to shift from coal to natural gas. Coal emits a lot more greenhouse gases when used to generate electricity than natural gas. But it’s difficult to measure methane leaks because the oil and gas industry is widely scattered. So scientists still are grappling with how much the climate change gains from shifting from coal to gas are offset by methane leaks.

A new study published this week in the journal Environmental Science and Technology illuminated one piece of the puzzle. It shows that methane emissions from the facilities that collect natural gas from wells appear to be “substantially higher” than the EPA estimates.

Elizabeth Shogren is HCN's DC Correspondent. 

High Country News Classifieds
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • EVENTS AND ANNUAL FUND COORDINATOR
    The Events and Annual Fund Coordinator is responsible for managing and coordinating the Henry's Fork Foundation's fundraising events for growing the membership base, renewing and...
  • EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Position Description: The Education Director is the primary leader of Colorado Canyons Association's (CCA) education programs for students and adults on the land and rivers...
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...