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DEP Fights EPA's Methane Regulation Rollback

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources is urging the federal Environmental Protection Agency not to eliminate methane control requirements at gas well sites and pipelines.

The proposal, made in late August, came after an EPA review of 2016 performance standards for the industry adopted during the Obama administration under an executive order from President Trump. The order directed agencies to review existing regulations that could “burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources.”

An EPA press release said that the proposal “would remove regulatory duplication and save the industry millions of dollars in compliance each year – while maintaining health and environmental regulations on oil and gas sources that the agency considers appropriate.” The agency makes the argument that existing regulations on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) also reduce methane at the same time so separate regulations are redundant.

Methane is a strong greenhouse gas (GHG) with a global warming potential 104 times greater than carbon dioxide in a 20-year time frame.

Several major companies and trade groups, in addition to the DEP, are also opposed to the change. The comment period for the proposed rule, which closed in late November, allowed stakeholders and the public to submit their views. Agreement between industry and environmental regulators is infrequent.

DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell wrote that Pennsylvania has taken steps to implement strategies to decrease GHG emissions as part of its Climate Action Plan. “The plan estimates that is governments fail to take further action to combat climate change, GHG emissions will increase by 2025 and even more so by 2050. This finding emphasizes the need for more ambitious and swifter climate action from all stakeholders, including the federal government,” the letter states.

The state’s Environmental Quality Board in late December voted to advance a proposal to implement new rules concerning volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from oil and natural gas sources as part of Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan. The proposed regulations, which will go to public comment in early 2020, would affect emissions from existing oil and gas operations across the state by setting VOC emissions standards in line with federal guidelines.

“The federal government, however, fails to adequately address GHG emissions in this proposed rule and other recent proposals,” McDonnell’s letter states.

U.S. Sen. Robert Casey also opposes the proposal, saying it “fails to address the urgent threat from climate change and endangers the health of Americans living near oil and gas facilities.”

And Joe Ellis, vice president of U.S. government affairs for BP, commented that “we need to control methane emissions now to maximize the advantages of gas and secure a role for decarbonized gas in the future energy system. Otherwise, we risk losing the confidence of investors, consumers, policymakers and other stakeholders.”

However, a group of states, including West Virginia, joined together to “strongly support the proposed rule to the extent it unwinds the illegal and ill-advised 2016 rule.” Other industry groups also support the change, including GPA Midstream Association, which represents companies that gather gas in pipelines and process it to remove impurities.

“Withdrawing methane regulations from the Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production source category would eliminate redundant regulations that provide no benefits to the public and cannot justify the additional costs and burdens on the industry,” wrote Matthew Hite, vice president of government affairs. At the recent Marcellus Utica Midstream conference, Hite told the audience that the rule change is the biggest issue facing midstream companies.

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