The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to announce between now and December 31, 2014 its plan for pursuing methane reductions from the oil and gas sector – including whether it will propose new emission reduction regulations. Additionally, the agency recently modified its greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting rules for oil and gas systems and also proposed expanding those rules so that they would cover many additional oil- and gas-related sources. This blog post briefly summarizes these recent developments.

Where is EPA Headed with Respect to New Emission Reduction Requirements?

In his March 2014 Methane Reduction Strategy, President Obama directed EPA to study opportunities for reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector and to make a determination by this fall as to how best to pursue further reductions. EPA has yet to announce its “determination” but it is widely anticipated that EPA will not propose new methane capture or leak detection and repair (LDAR) regulations; instead, EPA is generally expected to continue promoting voluntary emission reduction efforts. But the agency remains under pressure from environmental organizations to actually require emission reduction measures, such as new mandatory LDAR requirements. For example a recent report by a coalition of environmental organizations asserts that new LDAR regulations focused on methane, coupled with other mandatory methane reduction measures, could “reduce the sector’s methane pollution in half in just a few years.”

New GHG Reporting Requirements Take Effect January 1, 2015, and EPA has also Proposed a Significant Expansion of the Reporting Rules

Although EPA may not propose new methane emission reduction regulations, it is clearly interested in improving the range and quality of methane emission data that it receives – and that it makes available to the public. Thus, on November 13, 2014, EPA signed a final rule (published in the Federal Register on November 25, 2014) modifying the existing GHG reporting requirements for the oil and gas sector to clarify the exact equipment covered by the regulations and the precise methods that can be used to calculate emissions from that equipment. The modifications take effect on January 1, 2015 and apply to emissions occurring in 2015.

EPA also just signed a proposed rule that would expand the oil and gas sector GHG reporting requirements to several additional categories of equipment and activities. The proposed rule has not yet been published in the Federal Register, but it would expand the reporting requirements to include, among other sources, gathering and boosting facilities, completions of fractured oil wells (currently, the rules cover fractured gas wells) and natural gas transmission pipeline blowdowns. The proposed rule also discusses emission calculation methodologies and the confidentiality of data reported to EPA. Indeed, the proposed rule lists several categories of emission and equipment-related data and proposes to designate much of that information as not confidential. That feature of the proposal reflects the agency’s ongoing emphasis on “next generation compliance,” one element of which is greater public availability of environmental data. Comments will be due 60 days after the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register.