The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this fall will release a strategy to deal with methane emissions from natural gas and oil pipelines and wells that may include both regulatory approaches and recommended voluntary steps,according to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

The strategy “will be expressing the challenges as well as the opportunities in ways that will be very concrete,” McCarthy said Tuesday at Barclays Capital’s CEO Energy-Power Conference in Manhattan. “It will look at the policies available to us administratively; it will look at all the tools in our toolbox, and we’ll be able to continue the discussion moving forward. Because the challenge of getting the methane out of the system is not just a challenge of climate change and carbon pollution, the further upstream you go, the more we recognize that this is a traditional air pollution problem.”

Earlier this year, EPA released for public review five technical papers on the sources of methane and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions in the oil and natural gas industry (see Daily GPI, April 15). Feedback the agency received “has been very significant,” McCarthy said. “It has been instrumental in letting us think through where the opportunities and the challenges lie.”

There are many tools available to address methane emissions, “but our challenge at EPA is this fall to put out a strategy that is engaging, a strategy that will continue the dialogue moving forward, but a strategy that will clearly articulate how we can most cost effectively reduce VOCs and methane, so that we get the job done that the American people will want to see us get done, and ensure that oil and natural gas will continue to be a big factor in every state and every community in the most positive way that we can make it.”

Methane is “not wasted byproduct; it’s a product that’s being wasted,” and flaring it is clearly not the best approach, McCarthy said.

“I would suggest that reducing flaring is a priority for a lot of reasons. One is that you’re really just burning what should be profitable for you.”

EPA’s strategy may involve a mix of regulatory moves and recommended voluntary steps, McCarthy said.

“There are lots of things we can do regulatorily under the Clean Air Act, and there’s lots of things we can do to expand our voluntary programs,” she said. EPA will continue to work with partners in the natural gas industry to expand the range of best management practices and operational procedures that lower methane emissions. “We are looking at what are the most cost-effective, targeted, regulatory and/or voluntary initiatives that we may be able to put on the table that significantly takes a chunk out of the methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.”

The White House in March unveiled a strategy for reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations (see Daily GPI, March 28). EPA, the Department of Energy and the Department of Interior were tasked with the responsibility for ensuring emissions are reduced. In 2013, President Obama announced a sweeping climate change initiative, which some derided as the makings of a “war” on the coal industry (see Daily GPI, June 27, 2013).

In July, EPA’s Inspector General released a report that concluded the agency has been doing a lackluster job of addressing methane emissions from natural gas distribution pipelines (see Daily GPI, July 25). More than $192 million in natural gas was lost in 2011 through pipeline leaks, according to the report.

In March, Environmental Defense Fund released an analysis prepared by independent consulting firm ICF International that examined opportunities to reduce methane emissions across the oil and gas industry. The report found that 40% of onshore oil and gas methane emissions could be reduced in 2018 by deploying proven, cost-effective technologies (see Daily GPI, March 3).