09/27/2017 - Regulatory Rollback

EPA VOC and Methane Standards for Oil and Gas Facilities

by EELP Staff

The Environmental & Energy Law Program is tracking the environmental regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration. Click here for the list of rules we are following. If you’re a reporter and would like to speak with an expert on this rule, please email us.

Why it Matters

Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is a significant component of natural gas. In 2012, EPA set standards for volatile organic compounds for new hydraulically fractured and re-fractured natural gas wells and well-pad equipment that, when implemented, also resulted in reductions in methane pollution from those sources. In 2016, EPA issued the first rule expressly targeting methane emissions from fracked and re-fracked oil and gas well-head, well pad, and transport equipment and operations. EPA also issued Control Technique Guidelines in 2016 to states with moderate nonattainment areas for ozone, in effect directing them to amend their SIPs to address VOCs from existing sources via a set of controls that would also reduce methane emissions at those sources.

The Trump Administration has since worked to relax these rules and revoke the guidelines. Later in 2016, EPA issued an information collection request for data, including on ways to reduce methane pollution from existing oil and gas sources, a first step towards a rule targeting emissions from existing sources. The EPA revoked the request in April 2017.

Current Status

March 2017 EPA publishes a notice of proposed withdrawal of technical guidance which provided recommendations for reducing VOCs from existing oil and gas sources that relied on data and conclusions made in the June 3, 2016 NSPS rule, indicating EPA’s unwillingness to move forward with issuing a rule for existing sources.

April 5, 2018 Fifteen states and the City of Chicago sue EPA for its failure to regulate emissions from existing oil and gas operations. The suit argues that the agency violated the Clean Air Act by unreasonably delaying the fulfillment of its mandatory obligation to issue guidelines for controlling methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources, which the Clean Air Act obligates it to do once performance standards for new oil and gas sources are established. The Environmental Defense Fund intervened in that case on behalf of Plaintiffs on May 29, 2018.

Sep. 10, 2018 EPA announces the release of proposed revisions to the oil and gas NSPS issued in 2016. EPA initiated its review of the 2016 NSPS in April 2018.

October 15, 2018 EPA published proposed revisions to the oil and gas NSPS. The comment period is open through December 17, 2018 and can be submitted here. The proposal loosens requirements imposed by the Obama-era rule regarding fugitive emissions at new sources, including inspection and repair timeframes, standards, and certification requirements.

Nov. 14, 2018 EPA held a public hearing in Denver on its newly proposed NSPS rule.

History

Aug 16, 2012 EPA finalizes New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for VOC emissions (volatile organic compounds) from new wells and other oil and gas equipment. This rule reduces methane emissions indirectly and does not apply to existing oil wells, which also release VOCs and methane.

Sep. 23, 2013 and Dec. 31, 2014 EPA publishes amendments to the Aug. 16, 2012 NSPS amending and clarifying certain issues related to well completions and storage vessels, among others, and making technical corrections. 78 FR 58416 and 79 FR 79018.

June 3, 2016 EPA finalizes New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for VOC and methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. Additional sources are covered under this rule. Notably, this rule triggers the obligation to regulate methane from existing wells and equipment.

Aug. 2, 2016 Industry petitions EPA to reconsider the methane rule.

Oct. 27, 2016 EPA publishes final “Control Techniques Guidelines for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry.” The document provides states with moderate ozone nonattainment areas information to help them determine reasonably available control technology (RACT) for VOC emissions. Publishing the guidelines in effect directs these states to amend their State Implementation Plans (SIPs) to address VOCs from existing sources via a set of controls that would reduce methane emissions occurring at those sources using RACT.

Nov. 10, 2016 EPA issues an Information Collection Request (ICR) to operators, asking them to identify ways to control methane from existing oil and gas sources; covered facilities and processes including “onshore production, gathering and boosting, gas processing, transmission, storage, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) import/export.” This is the agency’s first step towards regulating existing oil and gas infrastructure for methane leaks, venting, and flaring.

Jan. 5, 2017 The D.C. Circuit consolidates several challenges to EPA’s rule. American Petroleum Institute v. EPA, Case No. 13-1108 (D.C. Cir.).

Trump Era

March 28, 2017 President Trump issues the Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, directing EPA to reconsider this rule (and many others).

March 1, 2017 Eleven states write Administrator Pruitt asking him to cancel the ICR for existing oil and gas sources issued in November 2016 because it is too burdensome for industry.

March 2, 2017 EPA cancels the ICR.

April 4, 2017 EPA announces it is initiating a review of the 2016 NSPS in light of President Trump’s Executive Order to determine if it needs to initiate additional rulemaking proceedings. 82 FR 16332.

April 7, 2017 EPA moves to suspend the case while it reconsiders the rule.

April 18, 2017 Administrator Pruitt sends a letter to industry, informing them EPA will reconsider at least two parts of the 2016 methane rule: a provision for states to request permission to set alternative emission limits and treatment of low production wells.

May 18, 2017 The D.C. Circuit suspends the case and directs EPA to submit 60-day status reports.

June 5, 2017 EPA publishes a formal grant of reconsideration. EPA will reconsider four provisions: the two provisions referenced in the April 18, 2017 letter, and two professional engineer certification requirements. EPA delays key provisions of the rule, notably the leak detection and repair (LDAR) requirements, for three months.

June 5, 2017 Environmental groups challenge the reconsideration and delayClean Air Council et al. v. Pruitt, Case No. 17-1145 (D.C. Cir.).

June 16, 2017 EPA proposes to delay key provisions of the methane rule for two years, acknowledging “associated climate and human health benefits” will be foregone as a result. The D.C. Circuit vacates EPA’s three-month delay of the methane rule on July 3, 2017.

June 29, 2017 States send EPA a notice of intent to sue over its failure to establish guidelines for standards of performance for methane emissions from existing oil and natural gas sources.

July 7, 2017 EPA asks the court not to require the agency to carry out the rule, at least until EPA can decide whether to ask the full D.C. Circuit to reconsider, or appeal to the Supreme Court.

July 13, 2017 The D.C. Circuit grants a limited stay of 14 days but notes that to delay the rule further “would hand the agency, in all practical effect, the very delay in implementation this panel determined was ‘arbitrary, capricious, [and] … in excess of [EPA’s] statutory … authority’.”

July 31, 2017 Environmental groups ask the court to reissue its mandate and direct EPA to implement all provisions of the 2016 rule. The D.C. Circuit rules EPA must enforce the methane rule.

Aug. 28, 2017 Multiple environmental groups announce they will sue EPA over its failure to regulate methane emissions from existing oil and gas infrastructure. (Recall from the History section: once a final rule for new sources of methane is issued, EPA may be obligated to set methane standards for existing sources. This could control methane pollution from all existing oil and gas production and transport operations in the United States.)

Oct. 31, 2017 The first round of compliance reports from regulated sites is due to EPA. Environmental groups file FOIA requests to obtain the reports but EPA does not respond.

Nov. 8, 2017 EPA issues two Notices of Data Availability to justify the proposed compliance delay of the rule and to solicit comments on certain proposed substantive changes. The Notices provides new information on EPA’s authority to stay the rule and on “technological, resource, and economic challenges with implementing fugitive emissions requirements…,” as well as an updated cost-benefit analysis of delaying the rule.  EPA takes comments on the Notices until Dec. 8, 2017, leaving the rule in effect for at least another 30 days, pending EPA publishing a final rule.

March 1, 2018 EPA publishes a notice of proposed withdrawal of Control Techniques Guidance issued on Oct. 27, 2016, which had provided recommendations for reducing VOCs from existing oil and gas sources that relied on data and conclusions made in the June 3, 2016 NSPS rule. Comments on the proposal are accepted until April 23, 2018.

March 12, 2018 EPA publishes a final amendment to the 2016 NSPS rule that allows leaks to go unrepaired during unscheduled or emergency shutdowns, saying repairing them could lead to service disruptions.

April 5, 2018 Fifteen states and the City of Chicago sue the EPA for its failure to regulate emissions from existing oil and gas operations. The suit, brought in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, argues that the Agency violated the Clean Air Act by unreasonably delaying the fulfillment of its mandatory obligation to issue guidelines for controlling methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources, which the Clean Air Act obligates it to do now that performance standards for new oil and gas sources have been established.

May 29, 2018 The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia grants Environmental Defense Fund’s unopposed May 25, 2018 motion to intervene on behalf of the state plaintiffs.

Sep. 10, 2018 EPA announces the release of proposed revisions to the oil and gas NSPS issued in 2016. EPA initiated its review of the 2016 NSPS in April 2018. A 60-day public comment period will commence once it is published in the Federal Register. The proposal loosens requirements imposed by the Obama-era rule regarding fugitive emissions at new sources, including inspection and repair timeframes, standards, and certification requirements.

Oct. 15, 2018 EPA published its proposed rule to revise the 2016 oil and gas NSPS. Submit comments on the proposal here by December 17, 2018.

Nov. 14, 2018 EPA held a public hearing in Denver on its newly proposed NSPS rule.

More Information

For more on the history of this rule, see its entry in the Save EPA website. The Environmental Defense Fund also posts legal briefs and a useful history on its website.