Oil and Gas 111b Methane Rule

The Environmental & Energy Law Program is tracking the environmental regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration. Click here for the list of rules we are following. If you’re a reporter and would like to speak with an expert on this rule please email us.

Why it Matters

Methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – is a significant component of natural gas. In 2012, EPA set standards for volatile organic compounds for new hydraulically fractured and re-fractured natural gas wells and well-pad equipment that, when implemented, also resulted in reductions in methane pollution from those sources, In 2016, EPA issued the first rule expressly targeting methane emissions from fracked and re-fracked oil and gas well-head, well-pad, and transport equipment and operations.

Current Status

On July 31, 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered EPA – which had tried to stay the June 2017 compliance deadline for the leak detection and repair (LDAR) requirements included in the 2016 rule — to enforce the LDAR requirements immediately. Compliance reports were due to EPA on October 31, 2017; environmental groups have filed FOIA requests to obtain the reports but EPA has not responded.

On March 12, 2018 EPA published a final amendment to the rule that allows leaks to go unrepaired during unscheduled or emergency shutdowns, saying repairing them could lead to service disruptions.

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 reduces methane emissions indirectly, and does not apply to existing oil wells, which also release VOCs and methane.

On June 3, 2016 EPA finalized New Source Performance Standards for VOC and 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, notably the LDAR requirements, 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  “associated climate and human health benefits” would be foregone 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 require the agency to carry out the 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 direct EPA to implement all provisions of the 2016 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 production and transport operations in the United States.)

The first round of compliance reports from regulated sites were due to EPA on October 31, 2017; environmental groups have filed FOIA requests to obtain the reports but EPA has not responded.

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

On March 12, 2018 EPA published a final amendment to the rule that allows leaks to go unrepaired during unscheduled or emergency shutdowns, saying repairing them could lead to service disruptions.

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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