EPA proposes voluntary methane reduction program for gas industry

The US Environmental Protection Agency proposed a voluntary methane reduction program for the natural gas industry that would allow companies to make commitments and track their progress. Comments on the proposed program, which would build on progress EPA has achieved in its Natural Gas STAR Program in the last 20 years, will be accepted through Sept. 1.

EPA also scheduled webinars for specific gas industry segments about the Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge. Oil and gas trade associations generally expressed cautious support for the idea.

“This flexible program has the potential to foster significant cost-effective emission reductions across the oil and gas sector and to provide transparency on the progress partner companies are making to reduce emissions,” EPA said in its July 23 announcement.

“The proposed program would include companies with operations throughout the natural gas value chain—onshore production, gathering and boosting, processing, transmission, storage, and distribution—and in onshore oil production,” it said.

EPA said it hopes to revise and finalize the proposed program in October, and have it ready to launch by yearend.

‘Already incentivized’

The American Petroleum Institute said it would work with EPA on its proposed methane reduction program, but cautioned against duplicative regulation of oil and gas operations. “Voluntary programs are the best way to reduce methane emissions from existing sources,” API Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Senior Director Howard Feldman said.

“Industry is already incentivized to best determine how to cost-effectively reduce emissions, and will consider participation in a voluntary program provided it has the necessary flexibility and incentives,” he said.

Independent Petroleum Association of America General Counsel Matthew Kellogg also noted that a flexible voluntary program with appropriate incentives for participation will be the fastest and most effective way to further reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

“It remains to be seen whether the options proposed by EPA will be workable and whether EPA will provide appropriate incentives for participation,” he said. “Additionally, there are concerns about the complexity and utility of the record keeping and reporting requirements associated with the voluntary program.”

Interstate Natural Gas Association of America Pres. Donald F. Santa said INGAA welcomes the opportunity for individual members to enter into agreements with EPA to reduce methane emissions further.

“It is extremely important that this program have flexibility because not all pipelines are alike in their configuration, their equipment, and, consequently, their opportunities to reduce methane emissions,” he said.

‘Collaborative measures’

America’s Natural Gas Alliance will review EPA’s proposal in the next few days to see how it would work in tandem with existing and upcoming regulations, ANGA Pres. Martin J. Durbin said on July 23.

“We have always said that the best way to achieve reductions in methane is through collaborative measures,” Durbin noted. “The fact that we have cut methane emissions from production activities by 38% since 2005 while increasing production by 35% bears that out. By contrast, it is clear that direct regulation will lead to regulatory uncertainty and fewer reductions over a longer period.”

American Gas Association Senior Managing Council for the Environment Pamela A. Lacy, meanwhile, said, “We appreciate that EPA is developing a voluntary program that gives companies the flexibility to choose either a best practices or a percentage reduction approach.”

She said, “AGA will need to review the details, but we believe this approach will help tailor the emission reduction goals to fit different situations on the ground, while taking the Gas STAR program to the next level.”

Matthew Hite, vice-president of government affairs at the Gas Processors Association, said GPA was an original advocate for EPA’s Natural Gas STAR Program, which has been successful in achieving voluntary emissions reductions.

“GPA looks forward to evaluating EPA’s new proposal,” he told OGJ. “We will be looking at how EPA addresses incentives in the proposal and how or if they credit previous efforts to voluntarily reduce methane emissions.”

A spokeswoman for the Natural Gas Supply Association said NGSA also is reviewing the agency’s proposal. “EPA’s voluntary program offers companies that wish to participate a welcome opportunity to showcase the reductions in methane our industry has been achieving,” she said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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