The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a new regulatory proposal to substantially reduce oil and gas methane pollution. The new draft builds on, and considerably strengthens, the agency’s initial proposal released last November. Most importantly, the proposal includes new standards for low-producing (but still potentially highly polluting) wells, which are a significant source of emissions in Pennsylvania.
“Capturing methane emissions from oil and gas operations is a cornerstone to responsible energy security and development. We are gratified to see the EPA issue a proposed rule that seeks to further address activities that risk releasing this potent greenhouse gas to the atmosphere” said John Walliser, Senior Vice President for PEC. “The draft rule takes meaningful strides toward regular inspections at small wells with leak-prone equipment, which are responsible for half of all methane emissions nationwide. Also critically important are provisions to retrofit oil and gas well sites with zero-emission equipment and new proposals to require inspections at abandoned wells until they are closed.”
The U.S. oil and gas industry emits 16 million metric tons of methane annually, which has the same near-term climate impact as 350 coal-fired power plants. The latest peer-reviewed research finds that these wells – sometimes referred to as “marginal” wells – drive over 50% of all well site methane pollution nationwide, despite producing just 6% of the country’s oil and gas. The EPA proposal requires regular monitoring at all sites with failure-prone equipment, which are responsible for an estimated 63% of production site methane emissions.
These steps are critical for states like Pennsylvania which have a wide range of older to newer well sites and an undetermined level of emissions.
Taking into account both the supplemental proposal and other measures in the November 2021 proposal, EPA projects that the proposed standards would reduce an estimated 36 million tons of methane emissions from 2023 to 2035, the equivalent of 810 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s nearly the same as all greenhouse gases emitted from coal-fired electricity generation in the U.S. in 2020. EPA’s estimates also show the updated proposal would reduce VOC emissions by 9.7 million tons from 2023 to 2035, and air toxics emissions, including chemicals such as benzene and toluene, by 390,000 tons.
A public comment period will be opening soon. EPA has already guidance to support public engagement. Virtual public hearings will be held on January 10 and 11, 2023. PEC will be submitting comments, which will be posted on our website once complete.