California Moves Forward With Oil, Gas Methane Rules

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By Carolyn Whetzel

July 21 — California's proposed rules to slash methane emissions from oil and gas facilities 40 percent to 45 percent by 2025 moved forward July 21.

At a hearing in Sacramento, the California Air Resources Board's governing body gave staff a green light to bring the proposal back for a final vote in early spring 2017. If adopted, the rules would be phased in from Jan. 1, 2018, through Jan. 1, 2020.

Unveiled earlier this year, the greenhouse gas emissions standards for crude oil and natural gas operators have garnered praised for being stricter than the new federal methane regulations. California's rules would apply to existing facilities, as well as the new sites regulated under the Environmental Protection Agency rules.

“This is landmark in terms of integrating air quality and climate” issues, CARB Chairman Mary D. Nichols said.

The proposal would result in continuing reductions of 1.5 million metric tons of carbon a year, using a 20-year global warming potential for methane. Additional air pollution benefits include 3,600 tons a year of reduced volatile organic compounds and 100 tons a year of benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene and xylenes reductions, CARB said.

Nation's Strongest Methane Controls

“California is now firmly on the path to adopt the nation's strongest methane controls anywhere,” Timothy O'Connor of the Environmental Defense Fund said in a written statement.

At the hearing, environmental advocates and people who live near oil and gas facilities called the rules an important step forward in addressing emissions from oil and gas operations.

Oil industry groups like the Western States Petroleum Association are concerned about some elements of the proposal, chiefly how they would be integrated with existing control requirements and the implementation time line.

In addition, the rules focus on some “insignificant emissions sources,” WSPA representative Jenifer Pitcher said.

WSPA and other groups also said CARB's estimated $22.3 million annual costs of the rules was too low.

The proposal would cover equipment components currently not regulated by the state's local air districts. It would require producers to take leak detection and repair measures to curb fugitive methane emissions from valves, flanges and connections.

Other provisions would require vapor collection systems on certain uncontrolled oil and water separators and storage tanks and well stimulation circulation tanks. Vented gas from reciprocating compressors and centrifugal compressors also would have to be collected, unless repaired or maintained to prevent leaks. Additionally, “no bleed” pneumatic devices and pumps, leak detection and repair, monitoring and quarterly inspections would be required.

The latest version of the draft rules abandon a “step-down provision” that would have allowed annual testing, not quarterly, after one year of compliance.

CARB's draft rules also would establish emission standards for active and idle equipment and components and impose monitoring requirements at underground natural gas storage fields.

Next Steps

Staff is drafting a memorandum of understanding with the local air districts that would be largely responsible for implementing and enforcing the rules, according to CARB.

“Implementation of these rules is going to be challenging,” Alan Abbs of the California Air Pollution Control Officers Association said.

For some air districts, the rules mean addition of many new stationary sources, he said.

CARB said it would continue to work with air districts on the implementation issues and the environmental justice community and other interested parties to address remaining concerns with the draft rules.

To contact the reporter on this story: Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at

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