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EPA Releases Proposed Rule That Would Limit Methane Emissions

November 10, 2021

by Paul Ciampoli
APPA News Director
November 10, 2021

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Nov. 2 released a proposed rule that would limit emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas, from facilities in the oil and gas sector. 

The proposed regulations would reach hundreds of thousands of new and, for the first time, existing facilities in the production, gathering, processing, and transmission and storage segments. 

The proposed rule is an exercise of the EPA’s authority under Section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act to establish New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for new and modified stationary sources of air pollutants and Emission Guidelines for existing sources under Section 111(d). 

The Biden administration is including the EPA proposal within a multi-agency plan to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands and waters; abandoned coal mines; landfills; and agriculture.

The EPA says it intends to issue a supplemental proposal next year that will include proposed regulatory text and potential further modifications based on public input. 

The proposal therefore seeks information on additional measures, including for abandoned and unplugged wells, flares, pipeline “pigging” operations, and tank truck loading operations. 

The EPA is also seeking ideas on how to empower communities neighboring oil and gas facilities to monitor and report large emission events.

Notably, this proposed rule reverses EPA’s prior interpretation of Section 111(d).  In the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, EPA argued that Section 111(d) provided the authority for EPA to establish nationwide carbon dioxide (CO2) rates for existing fossil fuel sources.

In the proposed rule, EPA instead adopts the position that Section 111(d) only authorizes EPA to develop regulatory guidelines in the form of the Best System of Emission Reduction (BSER) for states to follow in setting emissions standards for existing sources within each state. This precedent will be important as the agency moves forward on future new CO2 rules for fossil fuel-fired generation. 

The Biden administration released its multi-agency plan in connection with a “Global Methane Pledge” announced at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, in Scotland.

Over 100 signatory nations to the pledge have agreed to a collective goal of reducing methane emissions across all sectors by 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030.

The EPA projects that, by 2030, its proposed oil and gas sector rule would reduce methane emissions from covered facilities by 74 percent relative to their emissions in 2005. 

EPA further estimates that the proposed rule would reduce a total of 41 million tons of methane emissions by 2035, the equivalent of 920 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.  This amount exceeds the total carbon dioxide emitted from all U.S. passenger cars and commercial aircraft in 2019.

The EPA is seeking comment on the proposal. Comments will be due 60 days after publication of the proposal in the Federal Register. The EPA also will hold a public hearing 15 days after publication.

In 2016, the Obama Administration EPA promulgated an NSPS rule addressing methane emissions from new, modified, and reconstructed facilities in the oil and gas sector. 

In 2020, EPA rescinded the 2016 NSPS regulations, replacing them with a non-methane program that had the effect of foreclosing future methane limits for existing facilities. 

In 2021, Congress passed a Congressional Review Act resolution disapproving the rescission, thereby reinstating the 2016 methane NSPS for new facilities and reopening the door to eventual regulation of existing facilities.