Thursday, August 13, 2020

EPA Finalizes Methane Emission Standards For Oil & Gas Industry; Does Not Affect DEP Methane Proposal

On August 13, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced two final rules for the oil and natural gas industry that remove ineffective and duplicative requirements while streamlining others. 
He made this announcement at the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh with U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Mark W. Menezes, U.S. Congressman Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), and EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio.
These rulemakings will reduce regulatory burdens for oil and natural gas entities while protecting human health and the environment. Combined, the two final rules are estimated to yield net benefits of $750 to $850 million dollars from 2021 to 2030, the annualized equivalent of about $100 million a year. 
The first rule, referred to as the “policy package,” determines that the Obama EPA’s addition of the transmission and storage segment was improper and removes it from the regulation while also rescinding emissions standards for that segment. 
The policy package also makes clear that oil and gas operators will still be required to reduce emissions of ozone-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the production and processing segment of the industry. 
The rule removes methane control requirements for the production and processing segments, because the pollution controls used to reduce VOC emissions also reduce methane emissions, making clear that the separate regulation of methane imposed by the 2016 rule was both improper and redundant.
In addition, the policy package establishes EPA’s position that the Clean Air Act requires EPA to make a finding that a pollutant contributes significantly to air pollution before setting NSPS requirements. 
EPA said the Obama EPA failed to properly make that finding for methane emissions from the production and processing segments, which is a second reason why the package removes those requirements.
The second rule, referred to as the “technical package” includes commonsense changes to the NSPS that will directly benefit smaller oil and gas operators who rely on straightforward regulatory policy to run their businesses and provide Americans with reliable, affordable energy.
“As someone born and raised in southwestern Pennsylvania, I have seen firsthand the impact of the natural gas renaissance on our communities, including tremendous job creation and unprecedented wage growth,” said U.S. Congressman Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA). “The rules announced today by Administrator Wheeler will remove burdensome regulations while continuing to provide for cleaner and healthier air. Thank you to the Trump Administration for taking action and for their longstanding commitment to supporting Pennsylvania gas and oil operators, fighting for American energy independence, and fostering economic opportunities for workers and families.”
Pennsylvania Proposal
In May, Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board formally proposed its own regulation to control volatile organic compound emissions (methane) from existing oil and gas operations for public comment.
The comment period ended on July 27 after the EQB held three virtual hearings on the proposals.  Read more here.
DEP estimates there are approximately 435 midstream compressor stations, 120 transmission compressor stations and 10 natural gas processing facilities whose owners and operators may be subject to the proposed VOC emission reduction measures, work practice standards, and reporting and recordkeeping requirements.
In addition, an estimated 8,403 unconventional natural gas wells, as 303 of the 71,229 conventional natural gas wells that are above the 15 barrel of oil equivalent per production threshold would be covered by the regulation.
DEP estimated the regulation will reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations by 75,000+ tons a year.  Read more here.
DEP released this statement in response to EPA’s regulation--
“The rule changes from the Trump administration do not affect the proposed regulations on VOCs in the Oil and Gas Sector, however we are once again disappointed with the Federal Administration’s undoing of important efforts that address climate change. 
Attached for reference are the comments that the Wolf Administration submitted on the EPA methane rule. 
“The proposed rulemaking from the Environmental Quality Board includes requirements for operators to use best available technology (BAT) to control emissions to the maximum extent from new sources within the Commonwealth. 
“DEP is now considering the comments received during the recent public participation period and finalizing the rulemaking. There is no current timeline for when the final rule will be presented to the Environmental Quality Board.”
Multiple news media report Shell, BP and Exxon Mobil Corp., which have big natural gas portfolios, are worried that if methane emissions aren't controlled it could undermine arguments that natural gas is a cleaner-burning fossil fuel than coal.
"The negative impacts of leaks and fugitive emissions have been widely acknowledged for years, so it's frustrating and disappointing to see the administration go in a different direction," said Gretchen Watkins, Shell's president in the United States.
Watkins said her company will continue with its plan to reduce methane emissions.
Smaller companies say the requirements are too expensive for them.  Read more here.
Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp issued the following statement about the rule--
“The Trump administration’s attempt to eliminate these sensible methane standards is fundamentally flawed. Like so many other administration rollbacks that have already been rejected by the courts, this one ignores the science, the public health impacts and the low-cost solutions we have at hand. 
“These sensible pollution controls have been working to protect Americans since 2016. Investors, states, community groups and even leading oil and gas producers have all called on the EPA to retain and strengthen methane safeguards. The administration has no scientific or public health basis for taking this action, and EDF will forcefully oppose it in court.
“These rollbacks would have devastating effects on our climate and air quality, and will disproportionately damage the well-being of more than 9 million Americans who live within half a mile of wells affected by this rollback, including many Americans in our most vulnerable communities.
“The oil and gas industry is one of the largest sources of human-made methane pollution. Reducing methane from the oil and gas supply chain is the fastest, most effective way to slow the rate of global warming right now — but the rules signed today would instead allow an estimated additional 4.5 million metric tons of methane pollution into the atmosphere each year. 
“This pollution has the climate warming potential, when considered on a 20-year basis, of nearly 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year — equal to the emissions from around 100 coal-fired power plants annually.
“It is notable that this announcement was made in Pennsylvania, birthplace of the oil and gas industry, which emits more than 1 million metric tons of methane each year. This underscores the need for state leaders like Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to continue to strengthen and finalize rules to cut emissions across the oil and gas supply chain.”
“The methane rule rollback announced today is the latest in a series of reckless attempts by the Trump Administration to undermine and eliminate safeguards that protect us and our environment from dangerous pollution,” said PennFuture President and CEO Jacquelyn Bonomo. “This is a rule that is protecting our environment at a time when the climate crisis is accelerating unabated, and at a time when more and more data reveal the harmful impacts of fracked gas activity on public health. Much of the industry itself supports these regulations, and some of the largest fossil fuel companies are on record asking for this rule to remain in place. But by eliminating these critical protections, the Trump Administration is again showing that it puts pollution and corporate greed over the health of Pennsylvanians and our environment.”
Earthworks' Pennsylvania and Ohio Field Advocate, Leann Leiter had this comment on EPA’s action--“As with its COVID response, the Trump administration is ignoring reality about the climate crisis by weakening protections that cut oil and gas methane pollution. 
“That EPA Secretary Wheeler chose Pittsburgh to make his announcement highlights the parallel problems with how the Wolf Administration has proposed to address oil and gas air pollution. 
“Wolf continues to support expansion of the oil and gas industry and downplay the growth in methane pollution--similar to what the EPA has asserted in its quest to practically eliminate Obama-era federal methane safeguards.
“To protect Pennsylvanians and the climate, Governor Wolf must adopt science-based methane policy, as he has with his COVID policy, and strengthen his oil and gas pollution proposal to include all wells, not just those the industry agrees to. 
“Without strong safeguards as part of a managed transition away from fossil fuels we will not avoid climate catastrophe. State leadership has never been more critical.”
“You can find methane and toxic volatile organic compounds leaking everywhere oil and gas is drilled, compressed, and processed. These leaks put the health of families like mine at risk,” said Vanessa Lynch, mother of two children and Moms Clean Air Force Field Organizer living in Pittsburgh. “In my township, a well pad with 8 gas wells has been fracked in a populated residential area, which basically means there are houses, children, parks, daycare centers, assisted living facilities, and schools located nearby. 
“As a result, I’m concerned about how oil and gas air pollution will impact the health of my family and community. 
“Not only does oil and gas pollution harm public health, it also contributes to climate change. As the second largest producer of natural gas in the nation and the third largest greenhouse-gas-polluting state, Pennsylvania clearly has an outsize contribution to methane pollution. 
“Pennsylvanians are seeing the impacts of climate change today with more severe storms, increased flooding, extreme heat, and increases in vector-borne diseases such as Lyme disease. 
“The EPA should be following the lead of states like Pennsylvania under Governor Tom Wolf and stepping up to enact protective methane rules. We ask that EPA Administrator Wheeler do his job and protect the health of our children from methane pollution and climate change under the Clean Air Act.”
[Posted: August 13, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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