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IHS CERAWeek: EPA's McCarthy says methane emissions larger than anticipated

Houston — New data show methane emissions related to the oil and natural gas industry are "much larger than we ever anticipated," US EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Wednesday at IHS CERAWeek, adding that rules on those emissions would be coming this year.

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McCarthy said "significant" emissions were found from sources not previously on EPA's radar, including pneumatics, storage tanks and procedures for cleaning pipelines.

"We're learning, and we're going to keep that discussion going, but we have rules that are going to be moving forward this spring, and we're going to continue the dialogue with the industry and others about what more we can do, and hopefully get moving as quickly as possible to look at those new sources and the new information that has come in," she said.

In January, the Obama administration unveiled rules to reduce gas flaring at all oil wells on federal and tribal lands.

The methane and waste reduction rule proposed by the US Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management calls for operators to limit routine gas flaring, prohibits gas venting outside of limited circumstances and sets up new requirements for methane leak detection and repair equipment.

In August, the EPA proposed methane leak detection and repair requirements for new oil wells nationwide, but those rules were criticized by industry as being unnecessary and by environmentalists for being too lax.

McCarthy said the focus on methane is a result of good data and science.

"What we're learning was not necessarily the result of anybody hiding anything, it was simply getting really good data and science," she said. "It's not that easy to do."

McCarthy said the EPA has tried to get voluntary cooperation from the oil and gas industry in the same way it has with other sectors, like utilities and mining, but the issue of methane emissions is particularly complex.

"The challenge is that this is a very diverse constituency, it's a very diverse sector, there are a lot of different sources of emissions, and they're in a lot of different states," she said.

Included in those factors is that the geology can make it difficult to determine what actions would be cost efficient, she said.

"I think it's that diversity that has led to a lack of ... a normal ability to form voluntary partnerships and have those be broad enough to be meaningful," McCarthy said.

--Jason Lindquist,
--Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh,