EPA VOC and Methane Standards for Oil and Gas Facilities – More Information

Click here to return to our primary page on EPA VOC and Methane Standards, with the current status and discussion of why this rule matters. 


August 16, 2012 — EPA finalized New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) 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.

September 23, 2013 and December 31, 2014 – EPA published amendments to the August 16, 2012 NSPS amending and clarifying certain issues related to well completions and storage vessels, among others, and making technical corrections.. (78 FR 58416 and 79 FR 79018)

June 3, 2016 — EPA finalized New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) 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.

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

October 27, 2016 – EPA published final “Control Techniques Guidelines for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry.” The document provided states with moderate ozone nonattainment areas information to help them determine reasonably available control technology (RACT) for VOC emissions. Publishing the guidelines in effect directed these states to amend their State Implementation Plans (SIPs) to address VOCs from existing sources via a set of controls that would reduce methane emissions occurring at those sources using RACT.

On November 10, 2016 the EPA issued an Information Collection Request (ICR) to operators, asking them to identify ways to control methane from existing oil and gas sources; covered facilities and processes including “onshore production, gathering and boosting, gas processing, transmission, storage, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) import/export.” This was the agency’s first step towards regulating existing oil and gas infrastructure for methane leaks, venting, and flaring.

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

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 March 1, 2017 eleven states wrote Administrator Pruitt asking him to cancel the ICR for existing oil and gas sources issued in November 2016 because it was too burdensome for industry.

On March 2, 2017 EPA canceled the ICR.

April 4, 2017 – EPA announced it was initiating a review of the 2016 NSPS in light of President Trump’s Executive Order to determine if it needed to initiate additional rulemaking proceedings. (82 FR 16332)

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

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.

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

June 5, 2017 — EPA published a formal grant of reconsideration. 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 leak detection and repair (LDAR) requirements, of the rule for 3 months.

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

June 16, 2017 — EPA proposed to delay key provisions of the methane rule for two yearsacknowledging “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.

June 29, 2017 – States sent EPA a notice of intent to sue over its failure to establish guidelines for standards of performance for methane emissions from existing oil and natural gas sources.

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.

July 13, 2017 — The D.C. Circuit granted a limited stay of 14 days 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 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.

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.)

October 31, 2017 — The first round of compliance reports from regulated sites was due to EPA. Environmental groups filed FOIA requests to obtain the reports but EPA has not responded.

November 8, 2017 — EPA issued two Notices of Data Availability to justify the proposed compliance delay of the rule and to solicit comments on 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, 2017leaving the rule in effect for at least another 30 dayspending EPA publishing a final rule.

March 1, 2018 – EPA published a notice of proposed withdrawal of Control Techniques Guidance issued on October 27, 2016, which had provided recommendations for reducing VOCs from existing oil and gas sources that relied on data and conclusions made in the June 3, 2016 NSPS rule. Comments on the proposal were accepted until April 23, 2018.

March 12, 2018 — EPA published a final amendment to the 2016 NSPS rule that allows leaks to go unrepaired during unscheduled or emergency shutdowns, saying repairing them could lead to service disruptions.

April 5, 2018 – 15 states and the City of Chicago sue the EPA for its failure to regulate emissions from existing oil and gas operations. The suit, brought in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, argued that the Agency violated the Clean Air Act by unreasonably delaying the fulfillment of its mandatory obligation to issue guidelines for controlling methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources, which the Clean Air Act obligates it to do now that performance standards for new oil and gas sources have been established.

May 29, 2018 – The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted Environmental Defense Fund’s unopposed May 25, 2018 motion to intervene on behalf of the state Plaintiffs.

On September 10, 2018 EPA announced the release of a proposed revisions to the oil and gas NSPS issued in 2016. EPA initiated its review of the 2016 NSPS in April 2018. A 60-day public comment period will commence once it is published in the Federal Register. The proposal loosens requirements imposed by the Obama-era rule regarding fugitive emissions at new sources, including inspection and repair timeframes, standards, and certification requirements.

For More Information

For more on the history of this rule see its entry in the Save EPA website. The Environmental Defense Fund also posts legal briefs and a useful history on their website.

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