Industry groups are prepping for review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed voluntary Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program, through which oil and natural gas companies could make and track commitments to reduce methane emissions.

The proposed challenge, released by EPA Thursday, “is based on extensive stakeholder outreach and reflects a revision of EPA’s previously proposed Gas STAR Gold framework,” EPA said.

“While tremendous progress has been made during the last 20 years through the successful Natural Gas STAR Program, significant opportunities remain to reduce methane emissions, improve air quality, and capture and monetize this valuable energy resource. This new program has the capability to comprehensively and transparently reduce emissions and realize significant voluntary reductions in a quick, flexible, cost-effective way.”

The program would invite companies with operations throughout the natural gas value chain and in onshore oil production to commit to action under the Challenge. EPA would have three primary criteria for recognizing companies as partners under the program; company commitments should (1) be ambitious and achieve meaningful methane reductions across company operations; (2) be transparent with the ability to track and account for progress, and (3) demonstrate continuous improvement over time. EPA is proposing that companies participating in the Methane Challenge choose from two options to reduce methane emissions from their operations:

As part of their commitment, companies would track their progress through a transparent public mechanism, such as a data system and website, EPA said.

America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) CEO Marty Durbin said ANGA would review details of the proposed program to see how it would work in tandem with existing and upcoming regulations.

“We have always said that the best way to achieve reductions in methane is through collaborative measures,” Durbin said. “The fact that we have cut methane emissions from production activities by 38% since 2005 while increasing production by 35% bears that out. By contrast, it is clear that direct regulation will lead to regulatory uncertainty and fewer reductions over a longer period of time.”

The natural gas transmission industry has already taken voluntary steps to reduce methane emissions, according to Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) CEO Don Santa.

“INGAA welcomes the opportunity for individual companies to enter into voluntary agreements with the Environmental Protection Agency to further reduce methane emissions,” Santa said. “It is extremely important that this program have flexibility because pipelines are different. INGAA looks forward to reviewing this Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program to identify opportunities for further reductions.

“INGAA member members have a strong history of working with the Environmental Protection Agency on voluntary emissions programs. In fact, INGAA was an early endorser of, and many INGAA members participate in, the existing Natural Gas STAR program, the voluntary partnership between EPA and the gas industry to cost effectively reduce methane emissions.”

EPA is hosting a series of webinars July 28-30 to provide details about the proposed Methane Challenge Program, and will consider feedback submitted through Sept. 1. The agency intends to launch the Methane Challenge Program later in 2015, possibly in conjunction with the next Natural Gas STAR Annual Implementation Workshop in November.

The program was announced earlier this year as part of the Obama administration’s broad spectrum plan for the oil and natural gas industry to cut methane emissions from new and modified sources by 40-45% below 2012 levels by 2025 (see Daily GPI, Jan. 14).