EPA's Missed Opportunity with Proposed OOOOa Amendments
Posted November 14, 2018
The good news is that EPA’s proposed amendments to the 2016 New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) OOOOa rule will continue the rule’s ability to effectively reduce volatile organic compound and methane emissions from all emission sources addressed in the previous administration’s rule. Methane is the primary component of natural gas – a key product for industry. Producers are incentivized to bring that product to consumers, making its capture a top priority from a business standpoint, in addition to the environmental considerations. Unfortunately, the proposed rule includes several missed opportunities, and could ultimately stifle innovative new technologies in emissions detection and increase the cost of energy for Americans.
The 2016 NSPS OOOOa rule, formally titled “Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources Reconsideration,” introduced requirements to control emissions at well sites, compression stations and natural gas plants. The proposed amendments are intended to clarify certain requirements in the rule to streamline implementation and reduce duplicative EPA and state requirements.
However, in several important respects, the proposal misses the mark.
For example, the agency’s insistence on requiring site-specific approval for new technology, including any emissions detection technologies currently under development. There are significant capital investments and scientific studies underway to advance the development and use of new emissions detection technologies in the industry – developments that could lead to greater emission reduction that will be stifled under the new proposed rule.
In a press call that previewed industry comments for delivery during the EPA’s public hearing on the proposed rule, API Senior Director of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Howard Feldman laid out another shortcoming of the agency’s proposal. Feldman:
“The rule also fails to reduce the burden of overlapping regulatory requirements that have no environmental benefit. While the agency agrees that many state leak detection and repair programs are equally effective, significant and duplicative record-keeping and reporting remains. Duplicative and costly regulations with little or no environmental benefit could increase the cost of energy for Americans, undermine our competitiveness, and hinder our ability to provide the energy our nation will continue to demand for many years to come.”
This may seem like stating the obvious, but let’s be clear: the natural gas and oil industry supports sound regulatory policies that lead to cost-effective solutions that provide environmental benefits. The protection and safety of our workers, and the communities and environments in which we operate, is our top priority.
Methane is the primary constituent of natural gas, so minimizing its release is a top industry priority from both an environmental and business standpoint. From 1990 to 2016, the U.S. natural gas and oil industry invested an estimated $339 billion toward improving the environmental performance of its products, facilities and operations — $1,045 for every man, woman and child in the United States. The Environmental Partnership, for instance – a collaboration of more than 50 of the nation’s natural gas and oil producers, operating across the entire nation – exemplifies industry’s many forward-looking commitments to take concrete actions to reduce emissions.
Recent data – including the EPA’s own air quality reports – confirms that U.S. air quality has improved dramatically, and that industry’s efforts are working. In fact, industry’s results are nothing short of remarkable. Feldman:
“Methane emissions from hydraulically-fractured natural gas well completions have fallen more than 85 percent since 1990. The increased use of natural gas to fuel the power sector has played the most significant role in achieving the 30-year lows in carbon dioxide emissions from power generation that we see today; and – as America leads the world in natural gas production – natural gas output has doubled just as overall methane emissions from production have fallen significantly – 16 percent since 1990.”
There is no roll-back here – the Subpart OOOOa rule will continue to effectively reduce volatile organic compound and methane emissions. Essential here is the point that — as far as the ultimate goals are concerned for minimizing methane emissions – the changes are distinctions with a minimal difference. The rule applies to all emission sources addressed in the previous administration’s rule. But what should be important to anyone supporting advanced technologies and efficient regulation, the proposed rule is a missed opportunity to promote innovation and new detection technologies, and reduce the burden of overlapping regulatory requirements that have little environmental benefit. Political rhetoric shouldn’t mislead on the progress being made and that will continue to improve the environment under the proposed amendments. Industry will continue to push for sound regulatory policies that provide environmental benefits, because it makes sense – from both an environment and business standpoint. Feldman:
“API and its members recognize the importance of developing natural gas and oil resources responsibly. The combined technologies of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have elevated the United States to global prominence as an energy superpower. Because of the advanced application of these technologies, the United States is now the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas while, at the same time, emissions from the industry are declining.
“This positive trend will continue as many companies engage in multiple voluntary programs such as The Environmental Partnership and other individual efforts to further reduce emissions from oil and gas production.”
About The Author
Jessica Lutz is a writer for the American Petroleum Institute. Jessica joined API after 10+ years leading the in-house marketing and communications for non-profits and trade associations. A Michigan native, Jessica graduated from The University of Michigan with degrees in Communications and Political Science. She resides in London, and spends most of her free time trying to keep up with her energetic Giant Schnauzer, Jackson.
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