EPA Unveils Supplemental Methane Proposal with Critical Climate and Health Improvements

Proposed standards further strengthen pollution limits for many key sources, including high-polluting, low-producing wells, further action needed to eliminate pollution from routine flaring.

November 11, 2022
Lauren Whittenberg, (512) 691-3437, lwhittenberg@edf.org
Kelsey Robinson, (512) 691-3404, krobinson@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – Nov. 11) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced its latest regulatory proposal to reduce substantially oil and gas methane pollution. The new draft builds on and strengthens the agency’s initial proposal released last November. 

“The Biden administration is continuing to advance the ball on these crucial standards,” said Jon Goldstein, Senior Director of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs at Environmental Defense Fund. “Cutting methane pollution from the oil and gas industry is one of the most immediate and cost-effective ways to slow the rate of global warming while improving air quality and protecting public health. EPA’s proposal reinforces the United States’ firm commitment to climate action as the world convenes in Egypt to renew efforts to stem global warming. Minimizing wasteful methane emissions can also help meet energy needs during the geopolitical crisis, even as we continue to decarbonize the world’s energy systems."

“EPA’s proposal strengthens a number of critical pollution safeguards, including by ensuring regular inspections at high-polluting, lower-producing wells, unlocking advanced monitoring technologies, and addressing pollution from abandoned wells,” said Peter Zalzal, Associate Vice President for Clean Air Strategies. “The proposal relies on modern, proven technologies and best practices, including zero-emitting solutions, that, once strengthened and finalized, will deliver enormous climate and public health benefits for millions of people across the country. We look forward to further reviewing the proposal and working with EPA and all stakeholders to make the final rule as protective as possible.”

EPA’s proposal takes steps forward to reduce routine flaring, though further strengthening is needed to eliminate this wasteful and polluting practice.  EPA has also sought comment on questions related to the impacts of the Inflation Reduction Act, which can help to further accelerate methane pollution reductions.

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. According to analysis from Environmental Defense Fund, reducing waste of natural gas from leaks and flaring could provide over half of the 50 billion cubic meters per year of natural gas that the Biden administration has pledged to our European allies to address the energy crisis brought on by the Russian war on Ukraine.

Benefiting Communities

The regulations proposed by EPA today build on the agency’s initial proposal, as well as federal standards that were restored by bipartisan majorities in Congress last year with broad backing from industry and the public. 

Communities across the country stand to benefit from strong rules that cut methane emissions, as well as smog-forming VOCs that contribute to ground-level ozone problems and other air toxics released alongside methane. Peer-reviewed research has also found that among those living closest to oil or gas wells, a disproportionate share are people of color in several key production areas.

Military and political leaders agree that curbing emissions of methane offers an important near-term solution for advancing both climate and energy security goals as we work to decarbonize our economy in the long-term.

Strong standards from EPA will also work in conjunction with Congress’s recently-enacted Methane Emissions Reduction Program (MERP) to drive down methane pollution. MERP, which assesses a fee on oil and gas operators that are responsible for excessive methane pollution, provides funding for regulators, communities and companies to mitigate health- and climate-harming pollution from the industry.

High-polluting, Lower-producing Wells

Today’s proposal addresses emissions from high polluting, lower-producing wells – over 3/4 of which are owned by large companies that operate over 100 wells each and averaged gross revenues of nearly $335 million in 2019.

The latest peer-reviewed research finds that these wells– sometimes called “marginal” – wells drive over 50% of all wellsite methane pollution nationwide, despite producing just 6% of the country’s oil and gas.

The proposal requires regular monitoring at all sites with failure-prone equipment –  this is critical for reducing equipment leaks, which are responsible for 63% of production site methane emissions.

The proposed standards also maintain strong requirements to transition toward zero-emitting pneumatics, which are the industry’s second largest source of methane emissions.

Importance of Reducing Flaring Pollution

EPA’s proposal takes steps forward to reducing routine flaring of associated gas and further action must be included as the rules are finalized to reduce this wasteful and polluting practice. A recent study in Science found flaring emits five times more methane than previously thought due to flare malfunctions and inefficiencies. Analysis from Rystad Energy shows solutions to address routine flaring are overwhelmingly cost-effective and commercially available. 

Energy producing states like Colorado and New Mexico have moved to curb emissions from smaller, leak-prone wells and end the polluting practice of routine flaring, demonstrating how workable these commonsense solutions can be. Recent congressional action further underscores the broad support for EPA oil and gas standards and includes funding that will further drive down the cost of cutting methane pollution.

Following today’s proposal, a public comment period will commence which will include public hearings and testimony. The rule is expected to be finalized next year.

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