Defending Methane Standards for the Oil and Gas Industry

Deadline for Public Comments on this Rollback Notice:

November 25, 2019 (11:59 pm eastern time)

Read the Proposal @ https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2019-09-24/pdf/2019-19876.pdf

Comment on the Noticehttps://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0757 or go to https://www.regulations.gov/ and search for Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0757

Public Hearing: Public Hearing:The EPA will hold a public hearing on October 17, 2019 at the Earle Cabell Federal Courthouse, 1100 Commerce Street, Dallas, Texas.  See, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2019-09-20/pdf/2019-20242.pdf for more information.  

What’s at Risk and Talking Points 

Proposed Rollback of Methane Standards for Oil and Gas Industry

The Trump Administration has proposed to roll back air pollution control requirements that were intended to significantly cut emissions of climate-changing methane and other air pollution from the oil and gas industry.  While saving the oil and gas industry $17-19 million a year, this proposal will harm public health and the environment by increasing emissions of methane, smog-forming volatile organic compounds, and toxic air pollutants.This action is important because the oil and gas industry is the largest contributor to U.S. methane emissions,[i] and methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

The proposal to roll back methane control requirements flies in the face of strong warnings in the federal government’s 2018 National Climate Assessment. The assessment concluded that warming caused by greenhouse gases has already led to a variety of damaging health and environmental impacts, including worsening wildfires and crop failures.  The assessment states that without substantial and sustained efforts to cut emissions, climate change will cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century, with annual losses in some sectors in the hundreds of billions.[ii]

The proposed rollback has divided the oil and gas industry.  Several major companies such as Exxon, Shell and British Petroleum reportedly have opposed a rollback, while the American Petroleum Institute and many small companies have supported it. [iii]

The EPA Rules at Risk

The EPA “new source performance standards” at risk apply to new, reconstructed and modified equipment used in the oil and gas industry.  The required controls reduce VOC and methane emissions from extraction, production, transportation and storage.  The same technology used to avoid leaks and to control emissions of VOCs has the side benefit of reducing emissions of hazardous air pollutants and methane. 

Methane is a potent climate pollutant, and accounts for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.[iv]  Although methane stays in the atmosphere for a much shorter time than carbon dioxide, it has 84-87 times more heat-trapping potential over a 20-year period, according to EPA.[v]

VOCs and methane both contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone pollution, though in significantly different locations and time scales.  Ozone is linked to a wide range of respiratory ailments including aggravation of asthma, increased emergency room visits and hospital admissions, and deaths.

EPA in 2012 strengthened existing emission standards for oil and gas processing facilities and expanded the scope to cover additional emissions sources, including transmission and storage equipment.  In 2016, the agency for the first time explicitly regulated methane as a climate pollutant, and further expanded types of equipment regulated for methane and VOCs. 

The Trump Administration’s Proposed Rollback

The August proposal would roll back key parts of the 2012 and 2016 oil and gas rules, repealing methane requirements altogether and repealing VOC control requirements for transmission and storage equipment.

The stated rationale for the repeal of methane requirements is that -- because requirements for controlling VOCs result in identical controls -- the methane control requirements are unnecessary and redundant, and will have no cost or emissions impact.   However, eliminating the new-source methane requirements would eliminate a Clean Air Act obligation for states to issue standards to cut methane emissions from existing oil and gas equipment.

The proposal to repeal control requirements for transmission and storage equipment is based on legalistic procedural arguments alleging that both approaches that EPA used to justify expanding the scope of the oil and gas source category were improper.  Rather than fix the alleged procedural defect, the proposal would do away with the pollution control requirements.  According to EPA’s own regulatory impact analysis, the proposal over the 2019 to 2025 period would increase methane emissions by about 370,000 short tons, VOC emissions by about 10,000 tons, and hazardous air pollutant emissions by 300 tons, relative to current regulations.

In addition, the proposal would make it harder in the future for EPA to control air pollution from oil and gas transmission and storage facilities.  In the event EPA considered regulating air pollution from natural gas transmission and storage facilities in the future, the proposal would require EPA to analyze whether emissions from transmission and storage facilities alone would endanger public health or welfare, instead of considering the combined emissions of oil and gas production, processing, transmission and storage facilities. 

How to Submit Your Comments

EPA will accept written comments on the proposal until 11:59 pm eastern time on November 25, 2019.    To submit comments online, click on the following link:  https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0757 or go to https://regulations.gov and search for Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0757.

If you wish to submit comment by mail, email or by fax, see directions in the proposal notice at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0757.

Comments should be identified by the following docket number: EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0757.

What to Say

First, explain why you’re commenting on this notice – why controlling methane emissions matter to you. If for example, you are concerned about the build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere talk about your concerns.

If you have relevant expertise, say so. You don’t have to be an expert to make a valid and valuable comment, but if you do have expertise, share your knowledge.

If you have information relevant to the rule (for example, news articles or anecdotal information) about the build-up of greenhouse gases or methane specifically talk about that. If you are just a concerned citizen, talk about your concerns.

Be constructive and civil.  Don’t write a lot if less will do. 

Suggested Talking Points

In general

The agency is proposing deregulatory steps to save the oil and gas industry money rather than supporting actions designed to protect public health, safety and welfare from climate-changing pollution and conventional air pollution.   The proposed rollbacks are not justified by their flawed rationales.  The impact would be higher emissions of climate changing methane and higher levels of ground-level air pollution.

Methane requirements repeal

Repealing methane requirements is exactly the wrong thing to do in the face of growing evidence of serious harm from climate change and the urgent need to reduce climate-changing emissions.

The proposal notice states that the repeal of methane requirements will have no emissions impact because the same controls are required to meet VOC requirements.  Yet the agency acknowledges that this repeal will eliminate the requirement for states to issue methane emission standards for existing sources in the oil and gas industry.   The truth is that, over time, the repeal will result in greater emissions of climate-changing methane from the oil and gas industry.

The Administration proposal discusses several factors that will moderate emissions of methane in the absence of federal regulation.  This long discussion is mere rationalization for the Administration’s preference to cut costs to fossil fuel industries rather than to protect the broader public’s health and welfare. Voluntary and individual state efforts to cut greenhouse gases will continue to be beneficial but clearly will be inadequate to achieve the deep emission cuts needed to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change.

Recent scientific reports make clear that national and worldwide efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions dramatically by 2030 are needed to limit human-caused climate change.  In fall 2018 the National Climate Assessment,[vi]a U.S. government report from scientists at 13 federal agencies, provided an authoritative assessment of climate science.  It describes the changes that have already taken place and projects future impacts if dramatic steps are not taken to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.  It documents wide-ranging impacts in every region of the country and throughout the economy. The report makes clear that limiting the effects of climate change will require assertive and tough action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases by the U.S. and all the nations of the world. The report also makes clear that it is imperative that action be taken without delay.

The U.S. report came on the heels of an international report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that warns of substantial increases in damaging impacts at 2 degrees C. of warming relative to 1.5 degrees C. The U.N. report calls for “aggressive and sustained action” to cut emissions over the next decade.[vii]

In fall 2018, the National Climate Assessment[i], a U.S. government report from scientists at 13 federal agencies, provided an authoritative assessment of climate science.  It describes the changes that have already taken place and projects future impacts if dramatic steps are not taken to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.  It documents wide-ranging impacts in every region of the country and throughout the economy.  The report makes clear that limiting the effects of climate change will require assertive and tough action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases by the U.S. and all the nations of the world.  The report makes clear that action must be taken without delay.

Climate change fueled by GHGs has wide-ranging, life-changing impacts in the U.S. and worldwide.  These impacts are already being felt in different parts of the country and will get worse over time.

More frequent and intense heat waves and record high temperatures that lead to more heat-related illnesses and deaths, especially among the poor and elderly

More frequent and intense droughts, wild fires, damaging storms, and floods that cause deaths and injuries as well as property and infrastructure damage

Northward migration of tropical diseases; increased health problems from smog pollution; and increased production of allergens and the respiratory problems that they cause

Changes to the oceans that kill coral, fish, and mammals; changes in the ranges of plants and animals, or their outright extinction; damage to crops and fisheries; and potential increases in world hunger and other destabilizing changes

Possible rapid changes in climate that could cause even more abrupt and severe impacts for people and ecosystems.  [For more information including scientific sources, click here.]

Climate change threatens the health and welfare of vulnerable people in the U.S. and around the world, including children, the elderly, the poor, and native peoples.  

If we are to make near-term progress in reducing the rate of global warming, it is vital to control both methane and CO2 emissions.  Methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, but stays in the atmosphere only about a decade on average.  Thus, controls on methane can have a relatively rapid effect on warming.[viii]

Transmission and storage requirements repeal

The proposal to repeal control requirements for transmission and storage equipment is based on legalistic procedural arguments alleging that EPA used the wrong approaches in 2012 and 2016 to justify expanding the scope of the oil and gas source category.  Rather than fix the alleged procedural defect, the proposal would simply do away with those pollution control requirements – requirements that the agency previously determined to be warranted and reasonable.  The proposal is arbitrary because it does not explain why these controls are no longer warranted and reasonable.

In fact, a significant portion of oil and gas industry emissions come from transmission and storage equipment.  For methane, transmission and storage emissions are nearly 17 percent of the oil and gas industry total in 2017, based on figures in EPA’s notice.[ix]

Transmission and storage equipment should be subject to national emission standards to ensure effective and comprehensive emission controls in every state.  National standards also are needed to prevent responsible companies with good environmental practices from being outcompeted by companies that cut their costs by polluting more.

The estimated cost savings of $17-$19 million per year through 2025 is a tiny fraction of the oil and gas industry’s annual revenue, which exceeds $100 billion annually.[x] The public health benefits of the existing rules is well worth these costs, as was demonstrated by the regulatory impact analyses that EPA conducted for the 2012 and 2016 rules.[xi]  The industry can easily afford these costs. 

The benefit-cost comparison in the regulatory impact analysis is flawed and inadequate.  EPA ignored the cost of climate change damage outside of the United States, where most of the world’s people lives.  EPA did not count or give significant weight to the damage from increased ozone smog formation due to increased methane and VOC emissions, nor the damage from increased emissions of air toxics. 

There Is More That You Can Do

It would be great if well-reasoned, fact-based comments were enough to win the day, but in today's deregulatory environment, raising the political stakes of regulatory rollbacks is crucial to stopping or slowing them down.  Submitting comments is a good first step. For rules that are particularly important to you, please consider taking one or more of the following steps, too. These methods can help to mobilize public opinion and spur elected leaders to fight the destructive changes that the Trump Administration is promoting.

Write to your members of Congress and other elected officials.  Let them know your concerns and ask them to weigh in on this rollback and speak out publicly in favor EPA’s existing statements on this issue.  These links make it easy to write your members of Congress (your representative in the House of Representatives and your two senators).  If you're willing to register with Countable, this link -- https://www.countable.us/ -- allows you to identify your members of Congress and send a message to all three at once.  Or, you can write them separately -- you can use https://whoismyrepresentative.com/ or https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials/ to find your members' email contact forms or snail mail addresses.

Let your state officials know that you are concerned about this issue.  Write to your elected leaders, get involved with local activists who are encouraging local or state action.

Voice your concern and encouragement in the media, social media, at local meetings, and at every opportunity.  In the absence of federal leadership, it is vitally important that states and local governments fill the void.

Write letters to the editor and even op-eds in your local papers.  Letters to the editor should be fairly brief.

Organize or participate in campaigns to make phone calls or write letters to members of Congress and make phone calls to radio stations during call-in days, or take other actions to spread the word.

Inform your local officials about these issues and ask them to make a public statement or submit comments on a proposed rollback if your jurisdiction has a stake in these issues.  Bring up these issues at town hall meetings.

Spread the word via social media.  Tag your elected officials so they know how you feel.

Join or organize demonstrations.

Talk to your friends, colleagues and neighbors and encourage them to comment and otherwise join in this effort.

Vote.

For More Information

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Improving Characterization of Anthropogenic Methane emissions in the United States,2018, Washington, DC.https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24987/improving-characterization-of-anthropogenic-methane-emissions-in-the-united-states

Alverez, Ramon A. et. Al., “Assessment of Methane Emissions from the U.S. Oil and Gas Supply Chain”, Science, 361, June 21, 2018. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6398/186

_______________

Endnotes:

[i]EPA pre-publication notice, see table on pp. 21-22. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2019-08/documents/frn_oil_and_gas_review_2060-at90_nprm_20190828revised_d.pdf

[ii]U.S. Global Change Research Program, Fourth National Climate Assessment, 2018 https://www.globalchange.gov/nca4

[iii]See the Washington Post, “Trump Administration to relax restrictions on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas,” by Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, August 29, 2019.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2019/08/29/trump-administration-reverse-limits-methane-powerful-greenhouse-gas/

See also the New York Times, “Curbs on Methane, Potent Greenhouse Gas, to be Relaxed in U.S.,” by Lisa Friedman and Coral Davenport, August 29, 2019, updated August 30, 2019.  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/29/climate/epa-methane-greenhouse-gas.html

[iv]https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases

[v]https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/understanding-global-warming-potentials

[vi]See endnote i.

[vii]International Panel on Climate Change Press Release, “Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees C Approved by Governments,” October 2018. https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/

[viii]https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/MethaneMatters

[ix]Based on tonnage figures in EPA’s pre-publication proposal notice, p. 98.  https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2019-08/documents/frn_oil_and_gas_review_2060-at90_nprm_20190828revised_d.pdf

[x]The Washington Post, “Trump Administration to relax restrictions on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas,” by Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, August 29, 2019.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2019/08/29/trump-administration-reverse-limits-methane-powerful-greenhouse-gas/

[xi]The regulatory impact analysis at for the 2012 rule is available at https://www.epa.gov/controlling-air-pollution-oil-and-natural-gas-industry/2012-final-rules-oil-and-natural-gas-industry.  The regulatory impact analysis for the 2016 rule is available at https://www.epa.gov/controlling-air-pollution-oil-and-natural-gas-industry/new-source-performance-standards-and.

 

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