The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Leading on Reducing Methane Emissions

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted July 24, 2015

Some thoughts on EPA’s proposed program to encourage voluntary methane emissions reductions from existing sources. The Methane Challenge Program would expand on the Natural Gas STAR program by recognizing companies that make specific emissions reduction commitments and agree to submit annual data on the progress they’re making.

First, industry supports voluntary. The program could be supportive of what industry already is doing to reduce methane emissions – an effort that is working. EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report issued this spring showed methane emissions from hydraulically fractured natural gas wells are down 79 percent since 2005 – a period in which natural gas production has soared:

methane

This is the result in large part of industry innovation and the incentive for individual companies to capture as much methane as possible during production. Howard Feldman, API’s senior director of regulatory and scientific affairs:

“Even as oil and natural gas production has risen dramatically, methane emissions have fallen, thanks to industry leadership and investment in new technologies. Methane is the primary component of natural gas, and emissions will continue to fall as operators innovate and find new ways to capture and deliver more of it to meet consumer demands.”

In that context, EPA’s proposal could work as long as it is managed correctly – which is to say the program doesn’t become onerous. Feldman:

“Voluntary programs are the best way to reduce methane emissions from existing sources. 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.”

Certainly, if the objective is achieving emissions reductions as expeditiously as possible, industry-initiated efforts would work best for EPA as well. That’s because developing a new rule – drafting the language, reviewing it, taking comments, conducting public hearings – can take months. After that there’s a timeline for implementation. So there’s incentive for EPA, too.

One other point – this proposal is about existing sources of methane. Yet, while EPA seeks to launch this voluntary program, work on regulating methane emissions goes forward on other fronts. EPA soon will propose additional controls on new and modified oil and natural gas industry operations, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is crafting a rule for methane from existing sources on federal lands, while EPA is planning to suggest emissions reductions from oil and gas operations a precursor to ozone – itself the subject of a proposed EPA regulation that could be the costliest in U.S. history. (Ozone levels also are falling, largely due to industry efforts.) Feldman:

“The oil and natural gas revolution is driving unprecedented job growth, providing Americans with affordable energy, and helping to reduce emissions. In fact, safe and responsible development of energy from shale has helped the U.S. cut CO2 emissions to near 20-year lows. Additional regulations on methane by EPA and other agencies could have a chilling effect on the American energy renaissance, our economy, and our progress reducing emissions.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joins API after spending 16 years as national editorial writer in the Washington Bureau of The Oklahoman newspaper. In all, he has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, including six years as sports editor at The Washington Times. He lives in Occoquan, Virginia, with his wife Pamela. Mark graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in journalism and earned a masters in journalism and public affairs at American University. He's currently working on a masters in history at George Mason University, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor in the Communication Department.