EPA Publishes Methane Regulations for New Oil, Gas Wells

By Ben Remaly

June 2 — The Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever methane emission limits for new oil and gas wells will take effect Aug. 2, according to a final rule to be published in the Federal Register June 3.

The agency is regulating methane emissions from new and modified wells as part of new source performance standards (RIN:2060-AS30) issued under Section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act.

With that, the EPA also is publishing rules on aggregating oil and gas emissions sources for the purpose of permitting (RIN:2060-AS06) as well as a federal plan to manage some permitting in Indian territory (RIN:2060-AS27).

Methane is a short-lived greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100 year period, according to the EPA.

The new source performance standards require new and modified wells to develop leak monitoring plans and an initial leak survey within a year or within 60 days of startup and twice annually after that.

The EPA informally released the rules May 12 (92 ECR, 5/12/16).

Industry Considering Litigation

Howard Feldman, senior director of regulatory and scientific affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, said, “We will be considering all of our options” when asked if the trade association planned on pursuing litigation against the methane regulations.

Feldman referred to the new source performance standards as “unnecessary,” contending the industry is already reducing methane emissions without EPA regulations.

Felice Stadler at the Environmental Defense Fund also called litigation likely.

The petroleum industry estimates the new source performance standards will affect “tens of thousands” of new wells each year. The industry’s more pressing concern is the EPA’s upcoming standards for existing sources, which could set emissions limits for 900,000 active wells.

Aggregation of Oil, Gas Sources

The rules to be published June 3 also define when oil and gas emissions sources should be aggregated for the purposes of Clean Air Act permitting. Smaller emissions sources that are under common control and are deemed “adjacent” can be aggregated for the purposes of prevention of significant deterioration, new source review and Title V permitting.

While smaller sources individually would be subject to minor source permitting requirements, aggregating them can force them to comply with the more stringent major source provisions.

The EPA's final rule defines “adjacent” as equipment and activities that are under common control and are on the same site or sites and within a quarter mile of each other.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Remaly in Washington at bremaly@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com