EPA sets first federal emissions standards - Albuquerque Journal

EPA sets first federal emissions standards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released final rules on Thursday to limit methane emissions from oil and gas operations, marking the first such federal regulations to date.

The rules will require producers to limit venting and flaring from any newly built or modified wells, pipelines and infrastructure. Producers also will need to periodically inspect their operations to detect leaks and replace outdated equipment.

It’s the first of three federal rules currently in the works. That includes forthcoming EPA standards to extend emission limits to all existing oil and gas operations in addition to new and modified ones as outlined in Thursday’s rule. And, the Bureau of Land Management is finalizing its own regulations to limit emissions on all federal and tribal lands, with those mandates pegged for release this summer.

Thursday’s announcement drew a new wave of criticism from industry groups, and praise from environmental organizations.

“There are so many regulations coming from so many places with real redundancies among them,” said New Mexico Oil and Gas Association spokesman Wally Drangmeister. “The industry has already made major progress in controlling methane emissions without such rules, so this is just piling on more costly regulations that are not needed. It’s very frustrating.”

The industry says the regulations will add huge costs to operations at a time when low oil and natural gas prices have already pushed the industry into crisis. That could force thousands of marginal wells that are barely breaking even now to shut down in the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico, and in other gas-producing regions.

“It’s a very complicated set of regulations and we’re still analyzing it all, but this doesn’t bode well for natural gas production in New Mexico,” Drangmeister said. “Anything that raises costs when prices are so low creates more stress, increasing the chances for further decline in the industry.”

Environmentalists, however, said the EPA rule will help improve community health, help fight climate change and boost government revenue from royalties as more gas is captured and sold.

“We can capture this methane and turn it into a viable product while improving the health of citizens,” said Aztec City Commissioner Katee McClure in a conference call with local reporters. “To me, it’s a no brainer … I’m surprised at all the push-back.”

Glenn Schiffbauer of the Green Chamber of Commerce-Santa Fe Chapter said the effort to mitigate natural gas leaks can help strengthen local businesses that focus on that work. New Mexico has nearly a dozen companies that specialize in methane mitigation.

“The cornerstone of our chamber is to use the power of business to solve environmental issues, and this is the perfect situation for that,” Schiffbauer said.

The EPA estimates the new rule, if fully implemented, will lower methane emissions by 520,000 short tons in 2025, or the equivalent of 11 metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s stronger than goals contained in the EPA’s initial proposal last summer, which would have cut up to 400,000 short tons.

The agency said it bolstered much of the original proposal by removing exceptions for low-producing wells, expanding leak monitoring and requiring quicker repairs for leaks.

Controlling methane emissions is considered critical to combat global warming, because methane emissions are about 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas in the first 20 years after release. In addition, methane and other pollutants that escape with it into the air can increase ground-level ozone, impacting public health.

“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 on Thursday.

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