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Climate Change Hero

Climate Change Blog

  • 14
  • July
  • 2016

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EPA Continues to Aggressively Target Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Oil and Gas Sector

On May 12, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued three final rules, all related to the regulation of air emissions from oil and gas operations. The most significant of these regulations was a set of new requirements to limit Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) and methane emissions from certain new, modified, and reconstructed upstream and midstream sources in oil and gas production. As previously discussed, these regulations, known as New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) Subpart OOOOa (Quad Oa), are likely to have a major impact on businesses in the oil and gas industry. EPA is signaling that it plans to expand its air regulations to apply to additional sources in the sector.

Mandatory Information Collection Request

At the same time that it issued the new Quad Oa regulations, EPA also issued a draft Information Collection Request (ICR) that will inform EPA’s efforts to regulate emissions from existing oil and gas sources. This is significant because Quad Oa only applies to certain “facilities” that were added, modified, or reconstructed after September 18, 2015. In contrast, future regulations related to EPA’s ICR could apply to all regulated “facilities,” regardless of their age. This could result in EPA’s regulations applying at many additional upstream and midstream sites. EPA has indicated that the collection of additional information will also support agency efforts to propose standards for new and modified units not currently covered under Quad Oa.

EPA has requested public comment by August 2, 2016, on two proposed mandatory surveys to oil and gas facilities, before transmitting an ICR package to the Office of Management Budget (OMB) for review and final approval. The draft ICR consists of both an “operator survey” for oil and gas production sources, and a “facility survey” for several segments of the onshore oil and gas sector — production, gathering and boosting, gas processing, transmission, storage, and export/import facilities. These surveys will take the form of mandatory information requests issued under Section 114 of the Clean Air Act. There will be another opportunity for public comment on the ICR when it is transmitted to the OMB for final approval. EPA anticipates issuing the surveys in October of 2016.

The proposed “operator survey” is designed to collect “comprehensive information from onshore petroleum and natural gas production facilities to better understand the number and types of equipment at production facilities.” The survey will collect parent-company information and detailed facility-level information, including: the number of producing wells, wells that have been hydraulically fractured or refractured, and capped or abandoned wells; all well identification numbers; the number of tanks and compressors; and whether there are flares or liquids unloading at the facility. EPA intends to send this survey to all operators of oil and gas production wells, allowing them only 30 days to complete the survey.

The “facility survey” will be sent to a statistically significant sampling of facilities across each industry segment and will collect detailed unit-specific information about existing emissions sources, emission controls being used in the field, and management practices used to reduce emissions. Owners and operators will have 120 days to respond to this survey.

Members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works recently criticized the ICR as a “back door” attempt to limit methane emissions from existing sources, even in the absence of new regulations. While these letters may pressure some in the industry to voluntarily limit their emissions, EPA enforcement chief Cynthia Giles has stated that the ICR surveys are “information gathering letters. They are not enforcement actions.” Notwithstanding Cynthia Giles’s statements, compliance with the information requests would be mandatory under Section 114 of the Clean Air Act, and the Agency could pursue enforcement against companies failing to respond fully to the requests.

Voluntary Request for Information

In addition to the mandatory ICR, EPA recently issued a pre-publication Federal Register notice seeking additional information that “may be key in addressing emissions from existing oil and natural gas sources under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act (CAA).” Unlike the ICR, which will be sent to targeted recipients in the oil and gas industry, EPA’s latest request invites any interested party to provide information on “innovative technologies to accurately detect, measure, and mitigate emissions” from the industry. The Agency has requested this information on a voluntary basis.

Under the Request for Information (RFI), EPA hopes to obtain information that may lead to “advanced monitoring techniques, devices or systems appropriate for the dynamic and complex oil and natural gas sector,” and is particularly interested in information regarding the application of advanced monitoring techniques to existing sources. EPA emphasized that it is interested in “works-in-progress,” indicating that they may be willing to consider technologies that are not yet available. The RFI provides several examples of specific technologies of interest to EPA, including monitoring systems that provide coverage across multiple emission points or equipment in a way not previously possible and technologies that would allow for effective emissions controls at well sites or other co-located facilities. EPA will collect this information over a 120-day period beginning on the date of publication in the Federal Register, which is anticipated imminently. 

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Author

Rachel D. Comeskey

Rachel D. Comeskey Associate