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EPA Lays Out Proposed Methane Reporting for Oil, Gas Operators

As foreshadowed earlier this fall (see Daily GPI, Sept. 4), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) late Friday rolled out new requirements for the oil/natural gas industry to monitor methane emissions and report them annually as part of the Obama administration’s crackdown on greenhouse gas (GHG). Current plans call for the amended reporting requirements to be effective Jan. 1, 2016.

While it is taking comments for 60 days after the proposals are published in the Federal Register, EPA does not intend to hold public hearings unless requested.

EPA has proposed a new rule effective by the end of next year for the reporting and confidentiality of methane emissions from oil and gas systems, including areas the federal agency alleged currently provide limited data.

"The proposed rules would add reporting of GHG emissions from gathering and boosting systems, oil well completions and workovers using hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and blowdowns of natural gas transmission pipelines," an EPA spokesperson said. "These sources represent areas where GHG emissions data are currently limited."

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) endorsed the need to get more accurate data nationally on methane emissions, and its CEO Don Santa encouraged EPA to work with federal safety regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in implementing new reporting. "INGAA members already have made great strides in reducing methane releases," Santa said.

INGAA called the use of pipeline blowdowns that would be measured under the EPA rules "a critical and necessary component of pipeline construction and maintenance," but the procedure definitely adds to methane volumes released. "This is one of the reasons why widespread replacement of pipeline will not significantly reduce releases from transmission pipeline," Santa said.

For most of the year, environmental groups, led by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), have been lobbying hard for a tough federal program (see Daily GPI, March 28), and EDF reacted positively late to the EPA announcement. EDF Senior Attorney Peter Zalzal said it was "critical that EPA move ahead with common sense clean air measures to reduce methane emissions from the nation's largest industrial source."

EDF has worked with industry and other sources on attempting to refine the methodology and results of various approaches to modeling, monitoring and reducing methane emissions nationally.

A national GHG emissions reporting program was first mandated in 2008 by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, calling for emission data from "sources and suppliers across a range of industry sectors," the EPA spokesperson said.

According to EPA, the proposed revisions include adding onshore petroleum/natural gas gathering and boosting segments; well completions and workovers using fracking, gas transmission pipelines, along with requiring well identification.

EDF and EPA seem to have a disagreement on the use of "best available monitoring methods" (BAMM), which the federal agency indicated is allowed on a temporary basis by any "newly added source to provide flexibility to new reporters." EDF characterized the new EPA proposed rule as "eliminating" BAMM, which it characterized as allowing "unreliable reporting methods to calculate emissions" in the past.

"Under the new requirement, all sources must deploy standardized monitoring methods that will enhance the rigor and transparency of methane emissions data from the oil/gas sector," an EDF spokesperson said.

Under the ongoing GHG reporting requirements, EPA said it has received data from oil/gas production, processing, transmission and distribution operators. Last year, that resulted in annual reports from 2,100 facilities with oil/gas activities, and total GHG emissions for the year were 224 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, the agency said.

EPA considers the proposed rules a way to "enhance the quality of data from petroleum/natural gas systems," and the ongoing GHG reporting program has been an "important tool" for the federal agency and the general public to analyze emissions, identify improvement in the data, and understand what EPA calls "emissions trends."

EPA is also proposing well identification reporting requirements which should "improve the EPA's ability to verify reported data and enhance transparency," according to the agency. EPA also has proposed "confidentiality determinations for new data elements" sought in its proposed amendments to the GHG reporting program.

EPA said comments can be directed one of four ways to: e-mail (http://www.regulations.gov); fax (202-566-9744); U.S. mail (EPA Docket Center, Mailcode 28221T, ATTN: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2014-0831, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20460) and hand or courier delivery (EPA Docket Center, Room 3334, EPA WJC West Building, 1301 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20004).

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