Trump EPA aims to revamp another Obama-era climate rule

EPA is proposing revisions to an Obama-era rule on methane emissions from oil and gas production.

The agency today unveiled proposed amendments to the New Source Performance Standards for the oil and gas industry, aimed at controlling emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds from new and heavily modified sources.

EPA will reconsider the rule's fugitive emissions requirements, well site pneumatic pump standards, the requirements for a certified engineer to certify closed vent systems and other changes to implementation of the rule, according to a statement.

The public will have 60 days to comment once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register.


Methane is the main component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas, with more than 20 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide. The oil and gas industry is the largest emitter of methane in the United States, accounting for about 31 percent of emissions, according to EPA.

The agency's move is the latest in a rapid succession of proposed changes to rules aimed at controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Today's announcement follows EPA's recent release of a proposed replacement for the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan and a proposal to freeze vehicle fuel economy standards at 2020 levels.

The Bureau of Land Management is also expected to imminently release similar rule changes on methane emissions from oil and gas development on public lands.

Environmental groups have maintained the Obama-era methane rule would provide cost savings to the industry because of lost product through leaky components and affordable, readily available control measures. The oil and gas industry has said it already has made significant strides in cutting methane emissions without federal regulations.

The Obama administration's rule built on existing 2012 rules for controlling emissions of VOCs, including controls on methane for the first time. The rule also expanded the requirements for the types of equipment that needed controls on VOC emissions.

The prior administration argued that in 2020, the climate benefits of putting the rule in place would range anywhere from $160 million to about $950 million.

Under the Trump administration, however, EPA signaled it intended to change course on the Obama administration's efforts to control the greenhouse gases.

The agency first announced its plans to review the methane rule in March 2017, citing the Trump administration's executive order to review rules that may pose a "burden" to domestic energy development.

That same month, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced he was halting an information collection request aimed at gathering data from existing oil and gas facilities about emissions from their facilities. The announcement came just a day after he received a letter from nine attorneys general and two governors stating that the information collection request was too expensive (Climatewire, March 9, 2017).

The agency sought to delay implementation of the New Source Performance Standards, but last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled such a move was unlawful.

In March 2018, the agency amended certain requirements for new and modified facilities, including a requirement that leaking parts be repaired during unplanned or emergency shutdowns.

The agency noted it made the changes after receiving comments that such a requirement could increase safety concerns and emissions.

EPA also changed well site monitoring requirements on Alaska's North Slope from semiannual to annual monitoring. The agency noted that extremely low temperatures would make methane leak detection difficult during certain parts of the year.

The agency described both amendments as a cost savings to the oil and gas industry that would also reduce the climate benefits of the rule.


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