New EPA Rule Major Step Forward in Reducing Methane Emissions

Submitted by tlarsen on November 2, 2021

On November 2, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new rule for comment that will address methane emissions from both existing and new oil and gas wells and infrastructure in the US.  Currently hundreds of thousands of wells, pipelines, and storage tanks are leaking millions of tons of methane per year.  Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with up to 80 times the short-term global warming potential of carbon dioxide.  Oil and gas wells and infrastructure are a major source of methane leaks, and recent research demonstrates that the industry is leaking far more methane than previously estimated.

The new rule will also go a long way to meeting US obligations under the Global Methane Pledge, which requires a reduction of methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. 

Climate scientists warn that we must drastically reduce methane emissions in the next decade if we are to keep climate change under control, and reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector will be crucial to limiting global warming.

Rule Will Limit Major Sources of Climate Emissions

The new rule goes much further than the 2016 methane rule (finalized under the Obama Administration but rolled back by the Trump Administration), which only applied to new wells and infrastructure. 

The new rule also contains several important provisions, including:

  • Regulating oil and gas based on emissions, not on the amount of production from a particular well.  Reducing the amount of methane emitted is the key to limiting climate impacts and protecting communities.
  • Requiring a zero percent leak rate from pneumatic controllers, which collectively leak and estimated 51 billion cubic feet of methane in the production of oil and gas  per year
  • Prohibiting venting of methane, which is a major source of emissions
  • Addressing leaks from storage tanks
  • Providing an advanced screening approach to accelerate leak detection and remediation
  • Reducing emissions from maintenance activities, like liquids unloading

More Methane Regulation Is Needed

The EPA is also looking at supplemental rulemaking in 2022 to provide additional regulation. It is important that the supplemental rules fill several gaps in the current proposed rule, building in part on successful state regulations already in place:

  • The rule currently incorporates a tiered system for regulating wells, and the smallest wells will only receive a one-time inspection.  These small wells are often the most leak prone and should be subject to more frequent inspection
  • The rule does not regulate routine flaring, which is an important source of emissions.  Both Colorado and New Mexico regulate flaring in-state and the US EPA should follow their examples.
  • The proposed regulation of storage tanks does not address smaller storage tanks, and allows for a higher leak rate than current regulation in Colorado and New Mexico.

Green America will be joining with our allies in encouraging public comment on the rules to support the regulations the EPA is proposing and to encourage the agency to go further.

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