EPA Strengthens Proposed Methane Emissions Standards

EPA Methane Standards

(Credit: Pixabay)

by | Nov 15, 2022

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EPA Methane Standards

(Credit: Pixabay)

The EPA is significantly strengthening proposed standards to cut methane emissions, which includes requiring oil and gas companies to respond to third-party reports of leaks.

The new standards supplement rules that were proposed in November 2021 and the EPA says if they go into effect would reduce methane emissions from the sources covered by the regulations by 87% based on 2005 levels. The rules were announced at COP27 and especially target methane leaks from oil and natural gas operations, which the EPA says is the largest industrial source of methane in the United States.

The biggest piece of the updated standards is the so-called “super-emitter response program.” That requires oil and natural gas operators to respond to credible third-party reports of high-volume methane leaks.

The program would use data from regulatory agencies and approved third parties with expertise in remote methane detection technology to quickly identify large-scale emissions. The EPA says studies show large leaks from a small number of sources are responsible for as much as half of the methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry.

To ensure that the super-emitter response program operates transparently, the EPA says notices sent to oil and natural gas operators as well as their responses and any corrective actions, would be publicly available on a website.

Overall, leaks are a primary focus of the EPA’s methane standards proposal. Also included are that wells are routinely monitored for leaks, industrial use of methane detection technologies, and using remote sensors to detect and fix methane leaks.

Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. It also comes from livestock and agriculture, land use, and the decay of organic waste in landfills.

Methane is responsible for 11% of US greenhouse gas emissions, compared with 79% from carbon dioxide, according to the EPA. However, methane traps 80% more heat than carbon in the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere and is responsible for about one-third of the warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

The International Energy Agency says fossil fuel operations generated nearly a third of all human-produced methane emissions in 2020. The IEA says in order to reach net zero by 2050 methane emissions from fossil fuel use would need to fall by approximately 75% by 2030.

Methane has increasingly been the focus of emissions reductions as a substantial piece of net-zero targets. Last year the US and European Union unveiled the Global Methane Pledge, which calls for a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030. Dozens of investors and organizations also called for increased regulations and financing to help lower methane emissions.

Duke Energy, Accenture, and Microsoft developed a platform designed to measure baseline methane emissions from natural gas distribution systems. A California program aims to turn cow manure into renewable natural gas as another way to address methane.

The EPA projects the proposed standards would reduce 36 million metric tons of methane emissions from 2023 to 2035, which is the equivalent of 810 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Other elements of the EPA’s proposal include requiring flares are properly operated to reduce emissions and revising requirements for gas flaring, establishing emissions standards for dry seal compressors, which are currently unregulated, and setting zero-emissions standards for pneumatic controllers and pumps. The EPA also aims to increase the recovery of natural gas that would otherwise be wasted.

The standards also complement the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes rules against waste emissions and incentives to make improvements, the EPA says. The Inflation Reduction Act also provides incentives to implement methane reduction technologies and monitoring activities.

The EPA will take public comments on the proposed methane standards until Feb. 13, 2023. The agency plans to issue a final ruling on the standards later in 2023.

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