Oil and Gas 111b Methane Rule

The Environmental Policy Initiative is tracking the environmental regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration. Click here for the list of rules we are following

Why it Matters

Natural gas is composed almost entirely of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Earlier Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards indirectly limited methane pollution from new natural gas wells and some upstream (i.e., near the wellhead) sources, but this is the first rule to target methane emissions across the natural gas value chain. It also requires methane pollution control at oil wells, where co-produced natural gas is often vented or burned away.

Current Status

EPA must enforce the rule, according to a July 31, 2017 decision by the D.C. Circuit Court. EPA has not begun to enforce the rule, however, prompting environmental groups to announce they will sue EPA to make this happen. On September 13, 2017, the House of Representatives voted to defund the methane rule, as part of the 2018 budget package. On November 8, 2017 EPA issued two Notices of Data Availability to justify delaying the rule and solicit comments on proposed changes. EPA is taking comments on the Notices until December 8, 2017.

History

On August 16, 2012 EPA finalized New Source Performance Standards for VOC emissions (volatile organic compounds) from new wells and other oil and gas equipment. This rule indirectly targets methane, but does not apply to new oil wells, where a lot of methane is released.

On June 3, 2016 EPA finalized New Source Performance Standards for methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. Additional sources were covered under this rule. Notably, this rule  triggered the obligation to regulate methane from existing wells and equipment.

Industry petitioned EPA to reconsider the methane rule on August 2, 2016.

On January 5, 2017, the D.C. Circuit consolidated several challenges to EPA’s rule. – American Petroleum Institute v. EPA, Case No. 13-1108 (D.C. Cir.).

Trump Era

On March 28, 2017 President Trump issued the Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, directing EPA to reconsider this rule (and many others).

On April 7, 2017 EPA moved to suspend the case while it reconsidered the rule.

On April 18, 2017 Administrator Pruitt sent a letter to industry, informing them EPA would reconsider at least two parts of the 2016 methane rule: a provision for states to request permission to set alternative emission limits and treatment of low production wells.

On May 18, 2017 the D.C. Circuit suspended the case and directed EPA to submit 60-day status reports.

EPA published a formal grant of reconsideration on June 5, 2017. EPA would reconsider four provisions: the two provisions referenced in the April 18th letter, and two professional engineer certification requirements. EPA delayed key provisions of the rule for 3 months.

Also on June 5, 2017, environmental groups challenged the reconsideration and delay. – Clean Air Council et al. v. Pruitt, Case No. 17-1145 (D.C. Cir.).

On June 16, 2017 EPA proposed to delay key provisions of the methane rule for two years, acknowledging there would be foregone “associated climate and human health benefits” as a result. The D.C. Circuit vacated EPA’s 3-month delay of the methane rule on July 3, 2017.

On July 7, 2017 EPA asked the court not to make them carry out this rule, at least until EPA could decide whether to ask the full D.C. Circuit to reconsider, or appeal to the Supreme Court.

The D.C. Circuit granted a limited stay of 14 days on July 13, 2017, but noted that to delay the rule further “would hand the agency, in all practical effect, the very delay in implementation this panel determined was ‘arbitrary, capricious, [and] … in excess of [EPA’s] statutory … authority’.”

July 27, 2017 marked the end of the two week reprieve.

On July 31, 2017 environmental groups asked the court to reissue its mandate and tell EPA it has to implement this rule. The D.C. Circuit ruled EPA must enforce the methane rule.

On August 28, 2017 multiple environmental groups announced they would sue EPA over its  failure to regulate methane emissions from existing oil and gas infrastructure. (Recall from the History section: once a final rule for new sources of methane is issued, EPA may be obligated to set methane standards for existing sources. This could control methane pollution from all existing oil and gas infrastructure in the United States.)

On November 8, 2017 EPA issued two Notices of Data Availability to justify delaying the rule and solicit comments on proposed changes. The Notices provide new information on EPA’s authority to stay the rule and “technological, resource, and economic challenges with implementing fugitive emissions requirements…,” as well as an updated cost-benefit analysis of delaying the rule.  EPA is taking comments on the Notices until December 8, 2017,  leaving the rule in effect for at least another 30 days.

For More Information

For more on the history of this rule see its entry in the Save EPA website and the Columbia University Sabin Center for Climate Change Law’s database. The Environmental Defense Fund also posts legal briefs and a useful history on their website.

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