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EPA Says 41 Energy Companies Volunteering to Detect Methane Leaks

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said 41 companies involved in the energy sector, including several natural gas pipeline operators, have joined a voluntary program to detect methane leaks from a variety of sources in the field, and will implement a list of best management practices within five years.

The EPA officially launched its new Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program at the Global Methane Forum in Washington, DC, on Wednesday. The programscope outlines several best management practices for companies to detect and mitigate methane leaks.

"The program is a platform for companies to report systematic and comprehensive actions to reduce methane emissions," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said, according to prepared remarks from her keynote speech at the forum on Wednesday, the last day of the three-day event. "And it's a mechanism for those companies to be publicly recognized as leaders on climate action.

"Many companies are choosing to make ambitious commitments as part of this program. They're making the choice to lead, and it's really encouraging. At the same time, we're staying vigilant, and continuing to follow where the science and the data lead us."

The new program divides methane sources into five industry segments: onshore production, gathering and boosting, natural gas processing, transmission and storage, and distribution.

Among the 41 companies participating in the program are nine in the transmission and storage segment: Dominion Transmission Inc.; DTE Energy; Kern River Gas Transmission Co.; Northern Natural Gas Co.; Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E); Puget Sound Energy; San Diego Gas and Electric; Southern California Gas Co.; and TransCanada Pipelines Ltd.

Distribution companies in the program include CenterPoint Energy; Consolidated Edison Co. of New York; Consumers Energy; Dominion East Ohio; Duke Energy; Eversource; Exelon Industries; MDU Resources Group; National Grid; NiSource Inc.; Piedmont Natural Gas Co.; Public Service Electric and Gas Co. (PSE&G); Questar Gas Co.; Southern California Gas Co.; South Jersey Gas; Southwest Gas Corp.; UGI Utilities Inc.; Vectren; Vermont Gas; Washington Gas; and Xcel Energy.

Under the onshore production and gathering and boosting segments, companies will look for methane leaks from equipment -- including pneumatic controllers and pumps -- and at fixed-roof, atmospheric pressure hydrocarbon liquid storage tanks. Liquids unloading in the onshore production segment will also be tested, as will reciprocating and centrifugal compressors in the gathering and boosting, natural gas processing and transmission and storage segments.

The transmission and storage segment will also try to detect methane emissions from equipment and pneumatic controllers, and will also analyze transmission pipeline blowdowns between compressor stations. Meanwhile, companies in the distribution segment will look into methane leaks at metering and regulator stations and citygates, cast iron and unprotected steel mains, and at distribution pipeline blowdowns. Distribution companies will also investigate methane leaks caused by excavation damage.

According to the EPA, the program partners will report their findings to the agency on an annual basis in the spring, using a data system that the EPA plans to develop.

In early March, the Obama administration pledged to work with Canada to reduce methane emissions from existing oil and natural gas production and transmission facilities (see Daily GPIMarch 10). But at the same time, the administration's proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP) was temporarily blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court in February and faces an uncertain future -- a potential embarrassment after the U.S. pledged to reduce carbon emissions at a global climate pact in Paris last December (see Daily GPI, Feb. 10Dec. 14, 2015).

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