(Washington, D.C.) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today proposed historic climate and health protections to strengthen and expand limits on methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. For the first time, EPA’s proposal would extend pollution standards to the nation’s fleet of existing oil and gas well sites, in addition to strengthening rules for new facilities.
Hundreds of thousands of wells, pipelines and other oil and gas facilities emit millions of tons of methane every year. EPA’s oil and gas methane rules will play a central role in the Biden administration’s newly-announced Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan and in fulfilling U.S. commitments under the Global Methane Pledge, which aims to cut methane pollution 30% worldwide by 2030.
“Methane pollution is a profound threat to our health and our climate. Cutting methane emissions from this industry is the fastest, most cost-effective way to slow global warming today,” said EDF President Fred Krupp. “These rules are an important step that offers a major victory for nine million Americans living near active oil and gas sites. But EPA still has more work to do to cut flaring and address emissions from the nation’s many smaller, leak-prone wells.”
EDF estimates the U.S. oil and gas industry emits 16 million metric tons of methane annually, with the same near-term climate impact as 350 coal-fired power plants, along with smog-forming pollutants and air toxics like benzene.
The new proposal includes protective requirements for broad-based deployment of zero-emitting alternatives for the industry’s second largest source of methane pollution, pneumatic controllers, and enables use of advanced screening technologies to more quickly find and fix leaks across all sites. EPA also requests feedback on approaches to empower community use of technology to help further reduce pollution.
More to be Done
While today’s proposal is strong and an important step forward, final standards must be further strengthened to require regular monitoring across smaller, leak-prone wells and address the wasteful and polluting practice of flaring. EPA has stated it is taking protective action to further address these and other issues in a supplemental proposal.
Cleaning up oil and gas methane pollution is critical for improving air quality and for protecting public health.
“As countries around the world raise ambition on methane, we’re committed to working together with EPA and all stakeholders to ensure the final safeguards deliver the pollution reductions urgently needed to protect communities, address the climate crisis and help restore U.S. climate leadership,” Krupp said.
The proposal released today includes an advanced screening approach to accelerate leak detection and remediation, a phase-out of intentionally-polluting pneumatic devices, and a reduction of emissions from maintenance activities, like liquids unloading, that are currently unaddressed by EPA standards.
EPA has identified additional, important opportunities to reduce oil and gas methane pollution that the agency has committed to address through a supplemental proposal. These include issues like regular monitoring at smaller but high-polluting wells, the harmful and wasteful practice of burning off unused gas (flaring), and leaky abandoned wells.
It is critical that EPA’s supplemental proposal require regular monitoring at smaller, high polluting wells. Our analysis of so-called “marginal wells” – a similar categorization – has found they account for 80% of active oil and gas production sites. They have disproportionately high emissions, including nearly half of observable production emissions in EDF’s Permian Basin research, and contribute less than 6% of national oil and gas production. More than three quarters of marginal well sites are owned by companies that operate more than 100 wells.
The practice of routine flaring is another significance source of climate and air pollution that EPA rules have the potential to cost-effectively address. EDF research in the Permian Basin found upwards of 10% of flares are either malfunctioning or entirely unlit, while economic analysis from Rystad finds 84% of routine flaring in the basin could be eliminated at no net cost. Major oil and gas producing states like New Mexico and Colorado have acted to end the wasteful practice.
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