November 11, 2022

Amid international climate conference, EPA announces proposal for cutting methane emissions

Hannah Grover/NM Political Report

A pumpjack is pictured near Aztec, NM.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released new draft rules to limit methane emissions from the oil and gas sector on Friday during the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27.

The draft rule released Friday builds upon a previous draft rule released last year.

Environmental advocates say that the proposal is strong, but could be stronger. Many groups said further restrictions or elimination of routine flaring are needed. Full text of the draft rule can be found here

“Ozone pollution and climate impacts from methane emissions pose a serious threat to our people. Navajo leaders and community members have been calling on the federal government and the Navajo Nation to do more to limit pollution from oil and gas,” Robyn Jackson, the interim executive director of Diné CARE, said in a statement. “The EPA is on the right track proposing its updated methane standard. Inspections at smaller wells with leaky equipment are especially important at the older oil and gas infrastructure we see in Navajo Country. We need a strong final rule that cuts pollution from those wells. Both tribal and federal governments must act by adopting strong rules to protect our communities, our health, and our future. We must also ensure Navajo communities are not robbed of royalty revenue by wasting our natural resources as we transition to a more sustainable and cleaner future.”

The draft rule requires operators to show evidence that methane capture is not possible and that flaring is unavoidable before they can flare.

Flaring is often done during well completions, for safety reasons or when infrastructure is not available to take the gas.

According to the EPA, if implemented, the draft rules would lead to 87 percent less methane emissions than 2005 levels.

“This revised draft rule is a welcome reprieve to those of us living in the most prolific oil field in the United States, the Permian Basin,” Kaley Shoup, an organizer for Citizens Caring for the Future, said in a statement. “This rule raises the bar on the use of zero-emitting equipment and will finally clamp down on emission from abandoned wells.”

Shoup said the draft rule creates a strong foundation, but that the EPA should look to New Mexico for guidance and strictly limit routine flaring.

“Pollution doesn’t stop at the state border, and New Mexico alone cannot solve the pollution issue for those of us in frontline communities of the Permian Basin,” Shoup said. “We hope that these rules can be implemented and enforced swiftly, as the Permian faces down ozone pollution levels that are in violation of the Clean Air Act.” 

Related: Study: Improper flaring leading to larger methane emissions than previously thought

The draft rules include a super-emitter response program. This program would require operators to respond to credible reports of high methane leaks. These reports could come from environmental advocates that visit sites to check for leaks.

“The United States is once again a global leader in confronting the climate crisis, and we must lead by example when it comes to tackling methane pollution – one of the biggest drivers of climate change,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a press release. 

Regan said the agency is listening to feedback it has received from the public, which has led to a strengthened proposal that he said will allow for innovative new technologies to flourish and will also protect people and the planet. 

He said that the proposed standards will “work hand in hand with the historic level of resources from the Inflation Reduction Act.” 

The draft rules include routine monitoring for leaks and requirements for flares to ensure they are properly operating.

“The EPA’s supplemental rule represents a significant step forward in U.S. efforts to curb the worst effects of climate change,” Tannis Fox, a senior attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, said in a statement. “We appreciate that EPA listened to the vast amount of public input it received on last year’s draft proposal and is proposing measures to ensure the rule’s air quality and public health benefits are felt where they are most needed, in frontline communities like those in the Permian Basin and the Four Corners.”

A supplemental proposal would require states to develop plans to limit methane emissions within 18 months of the rule being finalized.

New Mexico already has a rule in place to limit methane emissions from oil and gas.

“New Mexico’s oil and gas methane and smog standards have been a real example for the federal safeguards that came out this morning,” Camilla Feibelman, director of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement. 

Comments on the supplemental proposal are being accepted through Feb. 13.

Shanna Edberg, the conservation director of the Hispanic Access Foundation, praised the EPA for proposing what she described as a strong proposal that includes provisions to address routine flaring. However, she said the rule needs further strengthening when it comes to flaring, or burning off excess gas. 

“Cutting methane emissions is critical to not only combating climate change but improving the health of our communities, especially Hispanic and Latino communities that can be disproportionately impacted by air and climate pollution from oil and gas development,” she said in a statement. “Latino children are twice as likely to die from asthma attacks, and in many regions throughout the U.S., oil and gas development contributes to that pollution.” 

Emily Wolf, the New Mexico senior program coordinator with the National Parks Conservation Association, said the draft rule is a “major step in the right direction.”

“For years, methane leaks from oil and gas drilling in the Permian Basin have plagued New Mexico’s national parks and communities,” she said in a statement. “In fact, recent reporting showed that Permian companies emit nearly 1.4 million metric tons of methane each year. This pollution inflicts damage on the communities, fragile ecosystems, landscapes and wildlife in and around Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and threatens the health of people in New Mexico and beyond. By ensuring strong and lasting cuts in methane waste and pollution across the country, the EPA can combat the climate crisis, benefit New Mexico’s economy, and guarantee future generations can experience our national parks.”