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Biden under pressure to quickly regulate methane

  • Market: Crude oil, Emissions, LPG, Natural gas
  • 09/12/20

US president-elect Joe Biden needs to move fast on controlling methane from the oil and gas sector, according to environmentalists who say there is little time to spare on a process likely to take years to complete.

Dozens of environmental groups sent a letter today to Biden's transition team urging them to "move swiftly" on regulating methane emissions. They say oil and gas operators could install existing technology to slash the industry's methane emissions by 65pc below 2012 levels by 2025

Oil industry officials, in contrast, say the incoming administration should carefully weigh the complexities of regulating methane under the Clean Air Act, before rolling out standards they say might eventually require operators to retrofit more than 1mn existing oil and gas facilities with emission controls.

"No one really knows how that would work in an oil and gas production world," Independent Petroleum Association of America executive vice president Lee Fuller said.

The push-and-pull over timing comes as Biden sets course on his strategy to achieve a campaign promise to impose "aggressive" methane rules on new and existing oil and gas sources, which are responsible for releasing methane equivalent to about 3pc of the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the US. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would lead the regulatory initiative on two closely related rules. The first step would be reinstating methane rules for newly built oil and gas facilities that Trump rescinded this summer. That "new source" rule legally has to be on the books before EPA can adopt rules for existing facilities. The agency then might have to wait years to enforce the rules in states that refuse to cooperate.

That time-consuming process means that Biden's EPA will need to get to work quickly if it wants to have a shot at meeting its methane goals within four years. Environmentalists who signed the letter today say they have asked the incoming administration to work concurrently on the two rules, rather than waiting to finish one before starting the other.

"The pitch we made to the Biden administration is that you do not need to do ‘new' first," Earthworks policy director Lauren Pagel said. "Doing both new and existing source rules simultaneously could get us on a trajectory to have rules in place by late 2021."

But oil industry officials say they want EPA to incorporate lessons learned over the past four years into any regulations, such as new equipment that can detect methane at lower cost and data on methane from marginal wells. Industry officials say an ongoing two-track litigation process over Trump's rollback of the methane rules might slow down Biden's timeline for action.

"I do not know that they can, in fact, step as quickly as they might like to step to pursue those rules,"Fuller said.

Oil industry groups have yet to back down from their opposition to EPA directly regulating methane under the Clean Air Act, instead preferring indirect rules and voluntary industry-led approaches. The oil industry lobbied the Trump administration to dismantle every methane regulation on the books, including the EPA rule and a separate rules affecting. public lands.

"We look forward to working with the Biden administration on policy solutions that enable further methane emissions reductions that are consistent with the Clean Air Act," American Petroleum Institute regulatory affairs senior vice president Frank Macchiarola said. "Reducing methane emissions is a priority for our industry."

Biden's transition team did not respond to a request for comment.


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