PI Original Ellyn Fortino Monday June 6th, 2016, 4:44pm

Environmentalists, Oil & Gas Industry Sound Off Over New EPA Methane Rules

Progress Illinois rounds up reaction to the federal government's newly finalized methane rules targeting the oil and gas industry.

Environmental and industry groups are sounding off over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) newly finalized methane regulations, which are designed to clamp down on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. Methane is a greenhouse gas that traps 25 times more heat than carbon dioxide.

The historic regulations are set to cover new and modified oil and gas operations, while placing a focus on reducing methane leaks. 

The first-of-their-kind standards are part of the Obama administration's goal to slash methane emissions from oil and gas production sources by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025.

The new rules are expected to cut 510,000 short tons of methane, or the equivalent of 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, by 2025 and produce $690 million in climate benefits, according to the EPA.

"Together these new actions will protect public health and reduce pollution linked to cancer and other serious health effects while allowing industry to continue to grow and provide a vital source of energy for Americans across the country," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in announcing the finalized regulations on May 12.

The rules require new or modified oil and gas equipment to be checked regularly for leaks, among other regulations.

It will cost oil and gas operators an estimated $530 million to comply with the standards, according to the EPA. The federal agency describes the regulations as cost effective because drillers can sell their recovered natural gas or use it on site. 

While environmentalists are encouraged by the new standards, they say existing sources of methane emissions should also be regulated.

Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said the U.S. oil and gas industry generates nearly 10 million metric tons of methane pollution annually. 

"It's a tremendous threat to our climate, and a needless waste of valuable resources," he said. "Cutting this pollution is the fastest, cheapest path to slow the warming we will otherwise see in the next 20 years."

The federal government, Krupp added, should extend the "same level-headed standards" targeting new and modified oil and gas equipment "to thousands of existing facilities that are still exempt despite generating millions of tons of methane pollution a year."

The EPA is taking the first step toward crafting a methane rule that would regulate existing oil and gas infrastructure. Specifically, the EPA is collecting oil and gas industry data necessary for developing the next set of proposed methane regulations, which are not expected to be complete before the Obama administration ends in January 2017.

Environmentalists are urging the EPA to act quickly. 

"The agency should move swiftly to collect whatever information it believes it needs and develop standards for existing operations," Meleah Geertsman, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council's Midwest Program, said in a recent blog post. "If the nation is to achieve our climate commitment to reduce methane pollution, we have no time to waste in taking on these older sources next."

The American Petroleum Institute (API), the national trade association representing the oil and gas industry, takes issue with the new EPA methane rules, calling them "unreasonable and overly burdensome."

Kyle Isakower, API's vice president of regulatory and economic policy, said the oil and gas industry has voluntarily taken action to curb methane emissions. 

"Imposing a one-size-fits-all scheme on the industry could actually stifle innovation and discourage investments in new technologies that could serve to further reduce emissions," he said, adding that the new regulations "could discourage natural gas production, disrupt our progress reducing emissions, and increase the cost of energy for American consumers."

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL,15), chairman of the House Environment and the Economy Subcommittee, is among the Congressional Republicans denouncing the EPA's methane rules. He released a joint statement on the issue with Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI,6) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY,1).

"EPA continues to go out of its way to target abundant American energy. This new set of rules will add significant burdens and costs to an already highly regulated industry," the lawmakers said. "Our economy is already on shaky ground, and more layers of federal regulation will only serve to threaten existing jobs and discourage new domestic production."

But others say the oil and gas industry's voluntary efforts to reduce methane emissions simply aren't cutting it.

"In taking this important first step, the EPA and the Obama administration are rejecting the status quo that has allowed the oil and gas industry to recklessly pollute communities around the country for so long," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. 

Brune went on to press for even greater climate action, stressing the importance of shifting away from fossil fuels altogether.

"If we are to truly safeguard our communities, our health, and our climate from the dangers of fossil fuel pollution, we must keep dirty fuels in the ground and transition to clean, renewable energy like solar and wind power," he said.



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