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North Dakota Finds 'Significant Heartburn' in EPA Methane Actions

Lynn Helms, director of North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), has expressed concerns about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) three final rules governing emissions from new oil and gas wells (see Shale Daily, May 12).

The EPA actions kick off a process for regulating emissions from existing oil and gas sources, which applies to 22,000 operators nationwide, Helms said.

"An information request is going to be sent to all of these operators asking for information on methane emissions from existing facilities," Helms said during a webcast in which he reported the state's latest oil/gas production statistics. "EPA will be looking for comments once this is published in the Federal Register." He did not say what North Dakota plans to do in terms of commenting.

"The regulatory impact analysts accompanying the new source rule is another 190 pages long," he said. "We've got 60 days to figure out if litigation is needed, or North Dakota should do something through the judicial system."

The three rules, which update the New Source Performance Standards, are designed to reduce methane, volatile organic compounds (VOC) and toxic air pollutants. The 600-page rule seeks to slash methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45% from 2012 levels by the year 2025.

The state still has to review everything and decide what the response from the North Dakota Industrial Commission might be. "We do have significant heartburn regarding the fact that climate change economics are part of the [federal government's] cost-benefit analysis,” Helms said.

Helms said the science surrounding the issue is well known, asserting that less than 15% of the methane emissions comes from oil/gas operations. "Even the most conservative of climate change models show that this hasn't had a big impact on temperatures, so we're going to be concerned if there are a lot of claims for climate change benefits,” he said.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said her latest actions "underscore the Obama administration's commitment to finding common sense ways to cut methane," which she characterized as a potent greenhouse gas fueling climate change, along with "other harmful pollution from the oil and gas sector."

While Helms was providing what he called a "blinking red light" alert on the EPA's latest actions, others in the West were expressing support.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said the federal agency's move "follows the example" of his state, which in 2014 established some of the first standards for directly regulating methane. "In Colorado, we remain committed to clean air, regarding of what the federal government does," he said, adding that "in most respects, Colorado's rules appear to be equivalent."

Ronni Flannery of the Wyoming chapter of the American Lung Association (ALA) praised the EPA's move, saying it will help improve public health and climate change issues in Wyoming and nationwide.

"In addition to methane, oil/gas facilities also produce VOCs, which harm human health directly and can react with other pollutants to form ozone pollution," Flannery said, urging state officials to "fully address" air pollution from the state's oil/gas operations.

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