The White House on Monday announced a series of measures to reduce methane emissions, including a $1.15 billion program for states to plug orphan oil and gas wells and to enforce tighter emissions rules for natural gas pipeline operators. 

Methane Emissions

The funds are part of a $4.7 billion orphan wells cleanup program authorized under the recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), and would be made available via the Interior Department (DOI). 

“Many of these orphaned wells are located in rural communities, environmental justice communities and communities of color that have suffered from years of divestment,” the White House said. “Plugging these wells will not only reduce methane emissions and stop dangerous pollution, but it will create good-paying, union jobs and spur economic revitalization, especially in hard-hit energy communities.”

Enforcing PIPES Act

Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation (DOT) also has begun enforcement of Section 114 of the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act. PIPES  “will help ensure pipeline operators immediately begin to minimize their methane emissions and will help inform the development of a new rulemaking that will require pipeline operators to minimize their methane emissions across their pipeline systems,” officials said. “DOT will be convening a public webinar…to provide more information on the new enforcement activity in this space and make clear the agency’s expectations for immediate action to minimize methane emissions by the pipeline sector.”  

The announcements are in line with the Global Methane Pledge announced in September by the United States and the European Union. Signatories to the pledge now include more than 110 countries covering slightly under half of global methane emissions, which are targeting a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030 versus 2020 levels.

The latest funding announced “will be available to states to identify and plug orphaned wells, remediate and reclaim lands impacted by oil and gas development activities, and remove infrastructure associated with the wells,” officials said. “The 26 states eligible for this funding collectively represent nearly every state with documented orphan wells in the country.”

What Else Is Funded?

Other methane-focused funds in the BIL include $11.3 billion for abandoned mine land reclamation through DOI, Another $1 billion is earmarked for natural gas pipeline modernization at the DOT, the White House highlighted.

Around $100 million would be set aside for wastewater efficiency investments, including methane capture or transfers, at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Another $30 million is for a Methane Reduction Infrastructure Initiative (MRII) to be undertaken by the Department of Energy and DOI.

“The MRII will enable the federal government, states and Tribes to develop a better understanding of the various challenges and opportunities to accelerating the detection, characterization, and mitigation of methane emissions from undocumented wells throughout the United States,” the White House said. “As a first step, the MRII will host a technical workshop to begin discussing research, development, demonstration, and deployment needs for the new Orphaned Wells Program created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.” 

At the workshop, public and private-sector stakeholders will discuss “advanced remediation and methane detection technologies, tools and methods, and best practices that can be used for the prioritization of well plugging and abandonment activities,” according to officials. 

Finally, President Biden’s Interagency Work Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization would focus on economic diversification and community-driven solutions in historic coal, oil, and gas regions across the United States. 

A national workshop is planned “on the potential to reduce methane emissions from legacy fossil fuel infrastructure, including orphan oil and gas wells, while supporting new emerging industries including clean energy and manufacturing,” the White House said. “Leveraging and transforming legacy fossil fuel infrastructure opens up the opportunity for a skilled workforce to access new sources of long-term high-quality jobs and for states and communities to increase tax revenues.”

What About The EPA Emissions Proposal?

In related news, the American Petroleum Institute (API) in comments to EPA said it supported a separate proposed rulemaking on oil and gas methane emissions from new and existing sources, as did the American Exploration and Production Council (AXPC). However, the Western Energy Alliance criticized the rules and the Biden administration. 

API emphasized its support for the “direct regulation of methane for new and existing sources.” It also highlighted the industry’s progress to cut methane emissions intensity from operations. 

“Reducing methane emissions is a priority for our industry, and we are committed to advancing the development, testing and utilization of new technologies and practices to better understand, detect and further mitigate emissions,” wrote API’s Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of Policy, Economics and Regulatory Affairs. “API supports the cost-effective direct regulation of methane from new and existing sources across the supply chain and directionally supports the EPA proposal” to reduce volatile organic compounds and methane emissions.

Said Macchiarola, “In recent years, energy producers have implemented leak detection and repair programs, phased out the use of high-bleed pneumatic controllers, and reduced emissions associated with flaring – voluntarily and under federal and state regulations.”

While EPA had not published the rule text for the proposed regulations, API based its comments on the preamble text. Comments were focused on the “effectiveness of emission reduction strategies, safety, feasibility, operability and cost, and where appropriate, recommended alternative approaches.” API called on EPA to publish the full text before setting the new source applicability date. 

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“Without regulatory text, affected facilities cannot know with certainty what regulatory requirements EPA has proposed and are thus unable to reasonably plan to comply with the final rule,” Macchiarola wrote.

AXPC CEO Anne Bradbury said the group’s comments “underscore the importance of regulating methane emissions from our sector in a way that encourages innovation and flexibility; incentivizes technologies for compliance; appropriately assesses feasibility, costs, and benefits; avoids duplicative regulations with states; and is in line with the Clean Air Act.”

Bradbury said AXPC supports EPA’s work to reduce emissions but wants the regulatory agency to “consider our suggestions when drafting regulatory text for a rule that is more workable around areas such as alternative technologies, applicability and compliance, and survey requirements for upstream production facilities. We also encourage EPA to embrace state flexibility for existing source regulations and provide adequate time for states to develop plans for implementation after publication of regulatory text.”

In her comments, Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma detailed how some provisions of the rule “will be technically infeasible to implement” and lead to higher energy prices, while benefiting foreign nations with less restrictive rules.

“The oil and natural gas industry supports balanced efforts to reduce methane emissions,” Sgamma said. “However, this rule would stifle innovation by unnecessarily limiting the use of advanced aerial and continuous monitoring systems. Requiring inflexible and redundant detection methods in the field means this rule would slow the up-take of innovative technologies that enable companies to more quickly find and fix methane leaks.

“EPA’s proposed rule would also disadvantage small producers, threatening up to 20% of U.S. production that comes from low-producing wells,” Sgamma said. “As we’ve seen over the past year, when natural gas prices increase, coal electricity generation increases and with it, greenhouse gas emissions, which could easily overwhelm the savings that EPA claims from this rule.”

Meanwhile, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which has worked with Lower 48 producers to voluntarily reduce their methane emissions and flaring, praised the proposed rules. EPA’s regulations “highlight the importance and feasibility of strong rules that comprehensively cut pollution from the oil and gas industry, including addressing pollution from smaller, leak-prone wells and ending routine flaring,” it noted.

“This proposal is an important step, and both the public and the latest science are unequivocal that EPA will need to further strengthen it by tackling methane pollution from smaller, leak-prone wells and ending the practice of routine flaring to fully protect communities and our climate,” said EDF’s Jon Goldstein, senior director of Regulatory & Legislative Affairs.