The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in March that it is in the process of developing new regulations to curb methane emissions from existing oil and gas facilities. The EPA will formally require companies operating existing oil and gas sources to provide information to assist in the development of comprehensive regulations to reduce methane emissions. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide. As a preliminary step in the process of developing methane regulations for already-existing oil and gas facilities, EPA plans to present an Information Collection Request (ICR) for public comment (via notice in the Federal Register) by the end of April 2016.
An ICR is a formal records request that requires the recipient(s) to provide reporting, records, or other specified information directly to the EPA. Such ICRs are authorized by Section 114(a) of the Clean Air Act (CAA), which provides EPA broad authority to request information, provided the requested information is for one of three approved purposes: (1) to assist the Agency in developing rules or regulations; (2) to determine whether “any person is in violation” of any CAA requirement; or (3) to carry out “any provision of this chapter[.]” The EPA is in the process of developing an ICR that will help it identify and target significant sources of methane emissions at existing facilities. The ICR will likely call for mandatory record-sharing, equipment surveys, and/or emissions monitoring. Recipients of the ICR will generally be required to provide the requested information to EPA and will be required to attest that their responses are accurate. Members of the oil and gas industry can expect to receive this ICR later this year, after public comment and final administrative approval.
EPA’s recently-announced plan is the latest in a series of moves to limit methane emissions from oil and gas facilities; however, this is the first significant proposal to target already-installed wells and other existing oil and gas equipment. In 2012, EPA adopted regulations that limit methane and other emissions from new hydraulically fractured and re-fractured natural gas wells. EPA proposed rules for reduction of methane and volatile organic carbon emissions from new oil and gas facilities on September 18, 2015. 80 Fed. Reg. 56593. The proposed rules for new facilities imposed methane reduction measures on oil and natural gas well sites, natural gas gathering and boosting stations, gas processing plants and natural gas transmission compressor stations. The March 2016 announcement for existing facilities indicates that the ICR will apply to these same types of sources “as well as additional sources.” This latest announcement has fueled concerns that the forthcoming regulations could, as a practical matter, require the industry to retrofit or replace existing production and processing equipment to achieve compliance.