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US EPA eyes flexibility in methane rule to cope with supply chain issues


EPA head holds talks with oil, gas sector

Lead endangerment finding to come this fall

  • Author
  • Kate Winston
  • Editor
  • Marieke Alsguth
  • Commodity
  • Energy Transition Natural Gas Oil Metals

The US Environmental Protection Agency is considering providing flexibility in the compliance deadlines for its upcoming rule to limit methane emissions from oil and natural gas wells, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said Sept. 27.

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"We have given a lot of thought to compliance flexibility, compliance deadlines," Regan said during a hearing of the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Regan said the EPA has had recent talks on this issue with officials from American Petroleum Institute, Hess, ExxonMobil, BP and others.

"We all believe that there is a technical solution, the question is how quickly can we get there, and I think we are having some positive conversations about that," he said.

The comments came in response to a question from Republican Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, who is the chair of the committee. The EPA's proposal requires compliance with some requirements within two months, but there are supply chain problems that would prevent industry from getting the needed equipment in that timeframe, he said.

Methane proposal

The EPA proposed revised methane emissions regulations in November for new and existing oil and gas wells that would require routine leak monitoring and seek to curb flaring. The proposal would create a new definition for super-emitting events, and owners would have to conduct an analysis to determine the cause of an event within five days of receiving notice from a regulator or a qualified, EPA-approved third party that such an event has occurred.

Tackling methane is a priority for the Biden administration because it traps 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Methane is responsible for about a third of warming from greenhouse gases, according to the EPA.

The EPA has received more than 500,000 comments on the proposed rule, Regan said.

"We are looking at how to strengthen all of the issues you've raised so that the final rule will acceptably address all of these issues," he added.

During the hearing, Lucas raised concern about the methane proposal's super-emitter response program. He asked why the proposal has strict technology requirements for industry to detect leaks but less-stringent requirements for third parties, like environmental groups, that might report those events.

"We don't want to create a system that would appear to the outside world to be hiring bounty hunters who have a lot more flexibility than those who are being pursued, so to speak," Lucas said in response to Reagan.

Lead endangerment finding

Ranking member Zoe Lofgren, a Democratic representative from California, pressed Regan about lead emissions.

The EPA proposed in October to find that lead emissions from aircraft endanger public health and welfare. After issuing a final endangerment finding, the EPA would propose standards for lead emissions from aircraft engines, according to the agency.

Small aircraft that use leaded aviation gas are the largest remaining source of lead emissions into the air, according to the EPA. Jet aircraft for commercial flights do not use a leaded fuel, the EPA said.

There is a small airport in Santa Clara County, California, and the county conducted a study that found that children in the neighborhood surrounding the airport had blood lead levels rivaling those of children in Flint, Michigan, Lofgren said.

While Congress has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to find an alternative to leaded aviation gas, they have not yet done so, she said.

"I am hopeful the [endangerment] finding will force the FAA and industry to come up with a plan to stop poisoning children with leaded fuels," Lofgren said.

The EPA is planning to release a final endangerment finding for lead emissions from aviation gas this fall, Regan said.

"There is absolutely no acceptable level of lead for any of us, but especially our children," Regan said. "EPA has been very active in this area, working very hard, following the science, following the process for a lead endangerment finding. We are making significant progress, and we believe that we will have that endangerment finding wrapped up, I believe, this fall."