EDF Experts Testify at EPA Public Hearing, Urge Swift Finalization of Strong Oil and Gas Methane Rules

Strong protections that go further to curb pollution from routine flaring are critical to protect communities and the climate

January 11, 2023
Matt McGee, (512)-691-3478, mmcgee@edf.org

(WASHINGTON) This week EDF experts testified as EPA holds public hearings on its proposed rules to reduce oil and gas methane pollution, which build on the agency’s initial proposal and represent a significant step forward for reducing methane pollution nationwide.

This proposal represents a critical step forward to reducing methane pollution, tackling the climate crisis and protecting frontline communities from harmful and toxic pollution,” said EDF attorney Grace Smith in her testimony. “We would like to highlight EPA’s opportunities to enhance the protectiveness of the standards and cut pollution, particularly by reducing flaring of associated gas at oil wells. We urge EPA to act quickly to meet the urgency of the climate crisis and avoid delaying this critical rulemaking.”

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas over 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, with methane from human sources driving roughly one-third of current global warming. Smog-forming and toxic pollution is often released alongside oil and gas methane, threatening the health of communities across the country.

EPA’s proposal ensures that all wellsites are subject to monitoring for emissions, including high-polluting, lower producing wells. Recognizing that these wells could drive up to 50% of all wellsite emissions nationwide, EPA has proposed requiring instrument-based monitoring at all sites with leak-prone equipment.

“We support improvements to EPA’s fugitive monitoring program that ensure all sites are subject to regular inspections, with heightened requirements for sites with failure-prone equipment,” added Smith. “Recent studies have shown that half of production site methane emissions are from smaller well sites -- finding and fixing leaks at these sites is therefore critical to driving down emissions.”

EPA has retained its strong initial proposal to phase out pollution from new and existing pneumatic controllers — devices that collectively make up the industry’s second largest source of methane pollution. 

“We commend EPA’s decision to retain its strong standards to phase out pollution from emitting pneumatic controllers and to extend that requirement to pneumatic pumps,” said Smith. “Operators are already taking initiative on their own to acquire these commonsense technologies, such as EQT, which recently announced it has replaced 100% of its controllers with zero-emitting devices.”

EPA has proposed a forward-looking framework that will allow companies to seize on advancements in methane mitigation methods and technologies and deploy proven approaches to quickly find leaks.

“EPA’s proposal helps catalyze the use of effective and low-cost advanced methane monitoring technologies by creating a framework for their deployment centered on equivalent emission reductions,” noted Smith. “The proposed framework is based on reasonable, nationally applicable assumptions and will create flexibility for operators while fostering innovation and delivering significant reductions at low cost.”

EPA’s proposal also includes a monitoring program that would allow third parties to seek EPA approval to conduct monitoring for super-emission events, defined as those exceeding 100 kg/hr of methane emissions, using similar methods as operators. Super-emitter events can release more pollution in a week than a properly maintained large wellsite would emit over an entire year, typically resulting from serious failures at the site, like unlit flares.

“We strongly support EPA creating a super-emitter response program, as these emission events are the largest and some of the toughest to identify and fix,” said Smith. “We urge EPA to ensure this program is accessible by providing clear parameters, guidance, and funding to enable participation.”

Routine flaring, the wasteful burning of gas produced at oil wells, is another major source of methane pollution. And while EPA’s proposal is a step in the right direction, stronger action is needed to end pollution from the practice.

“EPA has the opportunity to further strengthen its flaring requirements by ensuring any narrow exceptions are clearly delineated and requiring that operators provide rigorous and recurring documentation in any instance in which flaring is pursued,” added Smith. “EPA should also require more frequent certifications to ensure operators are making efforts to utilize one of the abatement methods and that requests to flare for technical reasons remain relevant.”

After this week’s public hearings, EPA has established a deadline on Feb. 13 for written comments on this proposal — the latest in a robust, years-long public engagement process. It will be important for EPA to move swiftly to finalize protective standards as soon as possible.

“We respectfully urge EPA to swiftly finalize protective standards,” concluded Smith. “EPA has fostered extensive public engagement on this proposed rule, with multiple hearings and a 90-day public comment period preceding both the 2021 and 2022 proposals and EPA should move forward with final standards by August 2023, consistent with the timeline in the latest regulatory agenda.”

For more information on EPA’s proposed rules, see EDF’s latest blog post.

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One of the world’s leading international nonprofit organizations, Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org) creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. To do so, EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With more than 3 million members and offices in the United States, China, Mexico, Indonesia and the European Union, EDF’s scientists, economists, attorneys and policy experts are working in 28 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on Twitter @EnvDefenseFund