Voluntary efforts provide good basis for methane rules, McCarthy says

Rules to limit methane emissions from oil and gas operations that the US Environmental Protection Agency expects to issue before yearend will reflect voluntary programs the agency already has worked on with the industry and states for several years, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said.

“One reason oil and gas is such an opportunity for improvement is that the industry itself has been dealing with this problem,” she said during an Oct. 22 appearance at the Center for American Progress. “The pollutant basically is its product, and companies have been working hard on this.”

States and local communities also have been important partners in taking early voluntary steps to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations, McCarthy said. “I don’t think EPA has ever had a better relationship with them. We respect each other,” she said.

EPA achieved its initial methane reduction success from oil and gas operations when it started to regulate hydraulic fracturing in 2012, McCarthy noted. “The fact that so few people remember this reflects how successful it was,” she said.

“It basically was focused on [fracing] and natural gas production, but we saw opportunities in other parts of the industry,” McCarthy said. “We wanted to get it back into the system so it could be sold as product and be wasted.” What the industry and government regulators learned will inform both the technology and the rulemaking process as older unconventional wells begin to be refraced, she added.

Voluntary partnerships do more than improve EPA’s relationships with the oil and gas industry and state and local governments, she observed. They also provide valuable learning opportunities to make equipment and appliances more efficient, she said.

“I think people are mistaken when they believe EPA has to have confrontations with industries it regulates,” she maintained. “Voluntary cooperation helps industries and regulators learn important things to do a better job.”

The agency will accept comments on its proposed methane rule through mid-November, she indicated. “We tried to set a long-term investment target with this as well as the Clean Power Plan, and I think it’s starting to work,” McCarthy said. “The business community is responding. People have sold short the market’s ability to transform the economy.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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