Why EPA’s Modified Methane Rule is Good for the U.S.
Posted August 14, 2020
Three reasons EPA’s newly modified rule on methane is good for the environment and U.S. energy – because both are critically important for our nation’s growth and prosperity:
1. Industry will keep reducing emissions while innovating for the future
Our industry is focused on reducing methane emissions from its operations. Methane is the key component in natural gas, which our companies provide for U.S. consumers. While methane no longer is regulated as a pollutant per se, the practical reality is that requirements remain largely unchanged that address emissions – through cost-effective rules to reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, which has the co-benefit of also reducing methane emissions.
All industry actions in the field to reduce VOCs – including measures to prevent releasing them into the air and low-pressure flaring – are identical to actions to address methane emissions. Removing methane as a specifically regulated pollutant has zero impact on the rule’s ability to reduce methane emissions from regulated sources.
At the same time, initiatives such as The Environmental Partnership (more below) are providing significant leadership in innovating and developing technologies while sharing best practices that further reduce emissions. Frank Macchiarola, API senior vice president for policy and regulatory affairs:
“Our industry continues to drive down methane emissions from operations while meeting America’s energy needs every day. Under these modified rules, operators will still be required to control emissions, and the industry continues to make progress in reducing methane emissions through new technologies.”
2. The rule is consistent with the federal Clean Air Act
First, our industry supports smart and effective regulation of its operations and is, in fact, widely regulated. At the same time, regulation must be consistent with authorizing statutes. The modified rule fixes a legal flaw while still protecting the environment.
Here’s how: During EPA’s previous rule development actions in 2012 and 2016, many argued that under the federal Clean Air Act, the agency first had to establish that there was a significant contribution of emissions before regulating additional pollutants (methane) or before expanding the scope of regulation to additional industry sectors – in this case, the transmission and storage segment.
EPA failed to make these findings in 2012 – to expand regulation to transmission and storage – and in 2016 – to add methane as a pollutant. EPA’s modified rule conforms to the law.
3. Effective state regulation is recognized
Under the modified rule, emissions sources in the transmission and storage segments, such as pipelines between natural gas processing plants and distribution networks to consumers, will continue to be addressed through state regulation. Likewise, key states also have leak detection and repair programs, which EPA has said are effective and able to satisfy federal requirements.
Certainly, opponents of natural gas and oil see things differently, contributing to a narrative that EPA is pulling back regulation. This simply isn’t supported by facts. As noted above, our industry is highly motivated to capture as much methane as possible to deliver to consumers as natural gas, and methane emissions will be reduced as VOC emissions are reduced. Consider:
- Methane emission rates from five of the largest producing regions across the U.S. fell more than 60% from 2011 to 2018, even as production in those regions skyrocketed.
- In the Permian, production surged 170% from 2011 to 2018, but methane emissions relative to production declined nearly 45%. In the Eagle Ford, production rose 140% while the methane emissions rate dropped more than 70%.
- A study by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration found that overall U.S. methane emissions have remained flat since 2006 even amid increased natural gas and oil production.
Initiatives such as The Environmental Partnership are building on these trends with quantifiable results (see the Partnership’s 2020 annual report). The Partnership has 84 participating companies, more than tripling its membership since December 2018, and includes 36 of the top 40 U.S. natural gas producers.
The Partnership is focused on high-tech, real-world applications and practical solutions that help individual companies improve the environmental performance of their field operations. This is a faster, more cost-effective and all-around superior approach than adding new layers of regulation and red tape from Washington. Macchiarola:
“There may be conflicting narratives being spun about [EPA’s rule], but let’s be clear – these modified rules still require operators to control emissions, including methane. Meanwhile, the industry continues to take important steps toward reducing methane emissions using new research and technologies. After decades of relying on foreign regimes, America leads the world in oil and natural gas production. We are motivated to capture methane emissions not only because it is best for our environment but because it is a valuable part of our product offering. We work hard to achieve this progress, and we are proud to demonstrate our commitment to improving and building on it.”
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and six grandchildren.