EPA Issues Long-Awaited Methane Emissions Regulations: Action Required for Every Wellsite
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced plans to strengthen proposed standards for reducing methane emissions and other air pollutants.
- Among other changes, oil and gas companies would be required to perform routine leak monitoring at all wellsites and compression stations.
- The EPA's plans also call for a program to identify "super-emitters" for prompt mitigation as part of updated pollution reduction measures.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Nov. 11, 2022, announced at COP27 its plans to strengthen proposed standards to reduce methane emissions and other air pollutants. While the proposed regulation is complex and lengthy at more than 500 pages, this alert will highlight some of the more consequential aspects of the proposed regulation, which EPA aims to finalize in 2023. The proposed regulations are ambitious and, if implemented as proposed, will have a significant impact on existing oil and gas operations. For example, any oil and natural gas company, regardless of size, is required to have routine leak monitoring at every wellsite and compressor station:
- single wellhead-only wellsites would be required to conduct audio, visual and olfactory (AVO) inspections quarterly
- wellhead-only sites with two or more wellheads would be required to conduct quarterly AVO inspections and optical gas imaging (OGI) inspections every six months
- sites with major production and processing equipment and centralized production facilities would be required to conduct bimonthly AVO inspections and OGI inspections quarterly
Updated Pollution Reduction Mechanisms
Furthermore, EPA's comprehensive approach to reducing methane pollution includes these other updated elements:
- prevent leaks from abandoned and unplugged wells by requiring documentation that wellsites are properly decommissioned and wells are plugged before monitoring is allowed to end
- establish a new "super-emitter" program that would leverage qualified third-party expert monitoring to identify "super-emitters" for prompt mitigation; this provision empowers approved third parties to monitor oil and gas facilities and report detected leaks
- strengthen requirements for flares to ensure they are properly operated to reduce emissions
- propose a new range of technologies allowed to use in detecting leaks and monitoring leaks
- set a zero-emissions standard for pneumatic pumps at affected facilities in all segments of the industry, with exceptions limited to sites without access to electricity; absent special circumstances, this requirement would prohibit the use of natural-gas-powered pneumatic pumps
- establish emissions standards for dry seal compressors, which are currently unregulated
- prohibit flaring of natural gas unless owner/operator submits a certified demonstration that all alternatives are not feasible for technical or safety reasons
- require states to develop plans to limit methane and submit those plans within 18 months after the final rule is issued
- the updated requirements EPA is proposing would apply to both the agency's NSPS for new, modified and reconstructed sources, and as presumptive standards to assist states in developing plans under the proposed Emissions Guidelines for existing source
EPA will host virtual trainings to provide communities, tribes and small businesses information about the proposal on Nov. 17 and Nov. 30, 2022. In addition, EPA plans to hold a virtual public hearing on Jan. 10-11, 2023. Written comments must be received by Feb. 13, 2023.
For more information on this proposed regulation, how it might impact your business, community or tribe, and for assistance with your written comments, please contact the alert's authors or another member of Holland and Knight's Oil and Gas Practice.
- EPA Trainings on Supplemental Proposal to Reduce Methane and Other Harmful Pollution from Oil and Natural Gas Operations (Schedule and Registration)
- Table of Covered Sources
- Overview of EPA’s Supplemental Proposal to Reduce Pollution from the Oil and Natural Gas Industry to Fight the Climate Crisis and Protect Public Health: Overview
- EPA Actions and Notices about Oil and Natural Gas Air Pollution Standards
- Standards of Performance for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources and Emissions Guidelines for Existing Sources: Oil and Natural Gas Sector Climate Review
Information contained in this alert is for the general education and knowledge of our readers. It is not designed to be, and should not be used as, the sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a legal problem, and it should not be substituted for legal advice, which relies on a specific factual analysis. Moreover, the laws of each jurisdiction are different and are constantly changing. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult the authors of this publication, your Holland & Knight representative or other competent legal counsel.