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Climate Change Hero

Climate Change Blog

  • 01
  • April
  • 2016

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EPA Releases New Voluntary Program to Limit Methane Emissions From the Oil and Gas Sector

On March 30, 2015, EPA announced the launch of its voluntary oil and gas sector “Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program.” Originally, this program was expected to be an alternative to mandatory emissions reductions for existing sources in the industry. Instead, EPA indicated more recently that it is also considering compulsory regulations for the same existing sources within the oil and gas sector that are part of this program. 


Methane is considered to be a potent Greenhouse Gas (GHG), and the administration has taken aim at limiting methane emissions in a number of proposed rules and new initiatives in the past few years. Because EPA has determined that nearly 30 percent of U.S. methane emissions come from oil production and the production, processing, transmission and distribution of natural gas, these segments of the industry have been primary targets of this new programs. Acting EPA air chief Janet McCabe called the program a step that would “move us closer” to meeting the Obama administration’s goal of cutting of sector's methane emissions 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. The announcement was made at the Global Methane Forum, and seems to signal the Administration’s continued focus on methane emissions.

Today’s newly launched Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program builds upon EPA’s Natural Gas STAR Program—a previous program aimed at voluntary methane emission reductions. EPA has already released “Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program (“Methane Challenge”) Best Management Practice (BMP) Commitment Framework,” which provides a way for companies to make and track emission reductions. EPA has touted the program as a way to “comprehensively and transparently reduce emissions and realize significant voluntary reductions in a quick, flexible, cost-effective way.” The BMP Commitment covers many of the same sources that EPA has proposed regulating in the oil and gas sector from new sources—such as compressors, pneumatic controllers, storage tanks, and “fugitive emissions” from equipment leaks—under the proposed new source performance standards, which EPA anticipates finalizing this summer. 

How does the program work?

There are 41 “founding partner companies” participating in this voluntary program. As with many other programs in EPA’s “nextgen” compliance push, this program emphasizes transparency. Companies fill out and submit a commitment table, outlining the sources of emissions that they intend to target, and specifying a start date and achievement year for those targets.

From the industry perspective, a major downside to participating in the program is that it does not provide any reprieve from EPA’s existing and proposed air regulations. From the perspective of environmentalists, the major downside to the program is that partner companies can choose to leave it at any time without penalty. One benefit for EPA is their ability to gain important technical data from participants: in order to maintain status as a program partner, companies do agree report specified supplemental data to EPA annually.

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