Methane Cuts Coming to California Despite Federal Rollback

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By Carolyn Whetzel

California’s oil and gas facilities and storage sites would have to tighten up their operations to meet tough requirements proposed to control methane emissions even as federal rules are expected to be rolled back.

The California Air Resources Board will vote at the end of the month on whether to approve proposed rules that would slash methane releases at crude oil and natural gas facilities by as much 45 percent, or 2.5 million tons, over the next nine years.

In the works for over a year, the rulemaking comes as the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers work to unravel Obama-era measures to control emissions of the potent climate pollutant at oil and gas production sites nationwide.

The state’s proposal is its first attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at its onshore and offshore oil and gas facilities and natural gas storage sites and is part of broader effort, now mandated under state law, to curb emissions of short-lived climate pollutants like methane.

Methane is 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period, according to CARB.

In California, oil and gas operations account for about 15 percent of the statewide methane emissions. CARB has estimated the regulation will cost about $22 million a year, but said the costs would be offset through the recovery of natural gas.

Rule Revised Since July

The proposal has been slightly revised since it was introduced, largely to clarify some issues.

“CARB has made slight improvements, but there are some issues that need to be addressed,” Sabrina Lockhart, a spokeswoman for the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA), told Bloomberg BNA in an email. “CIPA continues to have concerns regarding local implementation, unnecessary testing requirements and burdensome costs.”

The oil and gas industry is unhappy with the elimination of a provision to ease monitoring and reporting requirements for companies maintaining a full year of compliance and the potential costs of the regulation.

New research has found that a recent increase in methane emissions over the last two years is likely not due to fossil fuels, Lockhart said.

Intentional, Unintentional Releases Targeted

Targeted in the rules are the intentional and unintentional releases of methane and other gases from valves, flanges and connections. The requirements apply to oil production sites, gathering and boosting stations and processing facilities and natural gas storage and transmission stations.

The rules would cover equipment components not currently regulated by the state’s local air districts, which have authority over stationary sources of air pollution. Current district rules to curb emissions of volatile organic compounds also reduce some methane emissions, but more cuts are needed to help California meet its climate goals.

California’s regulation is more rigorous than the Environmental Protection Agency rule that took effect last August, Tim O’Connor, senior attorney and director of Environmental Defense Fund’s oil and gas program in California, told Bloomberg BNA.

“It would establish the most strict and comprehensive standards for oil and gas sites,” O’Connor said. Also, it applies to new and existing facilities where the EPA rule applies only applies to new facilities, he said.

Expected federal rollbacks of national methane rules and policies “shouldn’t have a significant impact on the California regulation,” O’Connor said. California’s rule would apply to oil and gas operations on federal lands in the state, he said.

But because California imports 90 percent of its natural gas, the carbon footprint of that gas would be larger if the federal rules are rolled back, O’Connor said.

Leak Detection, Methane Collection

Methane would have to be collected or destroyed, according to the rules. Companies would have to install leak detection controls, maintain and repair systems and comply with new monitoring and reporting requirements. The regulation 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 also need to be collected, unless the equipment is repaired or maintained to prevent leaks. Also, “no bleed” pneumatic devices and pumps would be required.

Emission standards will apply to active and idle equipment and components at underground storage facilities. Vapor recovery, leak detection and maintenance programs also would be required. Underground natural gas storage facilities would have to monitor for large leaks and well failures.

CARB’s governing board will consider “Proposed Regulation for Greenhouse Gas Emission Standards for Crude Oil and Natural Gas Facilities,” at its March 23-24, meeting in Riverside.

To contact the reporter on this story: Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles at CWhetzel@bna.com

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

For More Information

Documents and information on California's proposed greenhouse gas rules for oil and gas facilities is available at: http://src.bna.com/mTj

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