New EPA Rules Target Methane Leaks, Flaring & Venting
Following US President Barack Obama’s promise to cut toxic methane leaks at Oil & Gas facilities, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday, 12 May announced the US government’s “1st-ever” set of standards to reduce such emissions. The new regulations were criticized by environmentalist critics as not far-reaching enough.
The Obama Administration proposed new regulations in January 2016 to cut the amount of methane, a powerful Greenhouse gas about 25X more potent than CO2 (carbon dioxide), leaking from fossil fuel facilities on public and tribal lands.
The announcement came as a massive amount of methane continues to escape from a storage facility in Aliso Canyon, Northwest of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. It also follows the US Interior Department’s decision in January to stop granting new leases for coal mining on public lands.
The Interior Department’s new methane rules aim to reduce leaks gradually over the next 3 years by requiring Oil & Gas operators to update faulty equipment and reduce the flaring and venting of excess Nat Gas. It is part of the Administration’s agenda to fight climate change, which aims specifically to cut methane emissions from the Oil & Gas industry by up to 45% by Y 2025.
Leaked methane has been shown to have dangerous health impacts on communities near operation, such as headaches and respiratory illness. The practice is also a massive waste of energy.
Between Y’s 2009 and 2014, 375-BCF of methane was vented, flared or leaked from Oil & Gas facilities on public and tribal lands, that is enough to power more than 5-M homes for a year, according to the Interior Department.
An assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management at the Interior Department, said many Oil & Gas operators have taken steps to reduce methane emissions on their own, but that there are “other operators who are not as proactive.”
The Oil & Gas industry called the rules unnecessary.
“We share the desire to reduce emissions and are leading efforts because capturing more natural gas helps us deliver more affordable energy to consumers,” Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute (API), said in a statement. “The incentive is built-in, and existing Bureau of Land Management guidelines already require conservation. Another duplication rule at a time when methane emissions are falling and on top of an onslaught of other new BLM and EPA regulations could drive more energy production off federal lands. That means less federal revenue, fewer jobs, higher costs for consumers, and less energy security.”
Environmentalists argued the new regulations are critical to fighting climate change and saving energy and money.
“BLM is taking an important step to ensure the responsible development of our nation’s natural resources,” said Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund, which has led a series of scientific studies into methane leaks and has called for stricter regulations. “In 2013, oil and gas companies on public and tribal lands wasted more than $330-M worth of gas through leaking, venting and flaring practices that allow billions of cubic feet of methane—both a climate pollutant and valuable energy resource—to escape into the atmosphere.”
Several states, including Colorado, North Dakota, Wyoming and Pennsylvania have already taken steps to limit the venting, flaring and leaking of methane from Oil & Gas facilities. As has the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The EPA’s authority looks at questions of pollution and emissions. It is looking at it through waste prevention. Their regulations generally apply to new or modified operations.
The new regulations will be proposed to apply to all operations, old and new.
The EPA is just starting the information-gathering process to determine how to regulate existing wells, the agency says. Yet it is old, established fossil fuel infrastructure that is responsible for the vast majority of methane emissions in the US and many environmentalists are irked that the new rules stop short of regulating those facilities.
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