Groups question practicality of EPA proposed methane controls

February 20, 2023

Written by Alan Kovski. Originally published in Oil and Gas Journal on February 14, 2023. 

Oil and gas trade groups urged the EPA to take steps toward cost-effectiveness, technical feasibility, and flexibility as proposed regulations are shaped up to apply to methane and related emissions from production, transmission, and storage sites.

Oil and gas trade groups urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take several steps toward cost-effectiveness, technical feasibility, and flexibility as proposed regulations are shaped up to apply to methane and related emissions from production, transmission, and storage sites for crude oil and natural gas.The groups filed their detailed comments Feb. 13 in response to a supplemental proposal on methane controls that was unveiled in November (OGJ Online, Nov. 11, 2022). The emphasis of industry comments was on practicality, but they also cautioned the federal agency on the questionable legitimacy of some elements of the proposal, including an idea of using third parties for emission data collection to identify “super-emitters.”The November proposal was supplemental to an EPA proposal in 2021 to reduce emissions from existing as well as new sources in the oil and gas upstream sector. EPA has indicated it will issue the final rule this year.The American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) thanked EPA for taking some steps toward flexibility and cost-effectiveness in its supplemental proposed rule but argued there was much more to be done.

“The consequences of this proposal on America’s roughly one million existing oil and natural gas wells will be enormous, putting approximately 10% of American oil and natural gas production at risk,” IPAA warned.

One industry concern is timing. EPA said Nov. 15, 2021, the date of the proposed rule that year, can service as the applicability date for standards focused on new, reconstructed, and modified sources. That is too soon, API said.

Oil and gas companies are experiencing notable supply-chain delays, API said. “Control devices are currently experiencing delays of 3 to 4 months, while flow monitors are on backorder for a minimum of 6 to 8 months from suppliers,” the association said, and air compressors and other instrument air systems “are nearly 1 year on backorder.”

EPA proposed allowing inspections by audio, visual, and olfactory (AVO) senses for sites with a single wellhead and no processing equipment or other complications. But for multi-wellhead sites, the agency proposed more advanced monitoring, which can mean costly optical gas imaging, notably the use of infrared cameras.

API argued that AVO inspections should be allowed at multi-wellhead sites as well, so long as the sites only have wellheads and not the complications of various other types of equipment that might leak, such as several storage tanks or gas-driven pneumatic controllers.

IPAA said EPA should create an intermediate size category for what is “historically considered to be a ‘low production well,’ to utilize industry practices to identify leaks at substantially less cost than EPA’s proposed framework. EPA’s proposal places an economic burden on owners/operators of low production wells that is not justified.”

The agency’s emphasis on requiring zero-emitting controls for pneumatic devices is misguided, IPAA added. “Pneumatic controllers and pumps are not the problem EPA portrays them to be,” the association said, urging that the agency consider alternatives.

API also argued that EPA should not impose more stringent obligations—in terms of monitoring frequency—on alternative technologies than on a proposed “best system of emission reduction.”

Idled wells, closed wells

EPA’s proposed requirement for a well closure plan within 30 days of “cessation” of production “perhaps denotes a lack of understanding of the industry,” IPAA said.

When a company idles a well for 30 days or more, it “does not mean it intends to plug/abandon the well. Wells are often temporarily shut in for mechanical considerations, wellbore issues, reworking or repair of surface facilities or government orders/enforcement,” IPAA said. At a minimum, the term “cessation” is ambiguous, the association said.

IPAA also said, “EPA provides no justification or rationalization for requiring a description of the steps to close all wells at the well site when it is not uncommon for simply one well to be identified as uneconomical and thus slated for plugging while remaining wells remain in service.”

Idle or abandoned wells might have emissions, justifying some monitoring, but EPA has provided no analysis to justify costly optical gas imaging for idle or abandoned wells, IPAA said.

So-called super-emitters

EPA proposed a Super-Emitter Response Program with a controversial idea, the use of third parties—possibly including activist groups—for data gathering. The validity and use of the emission data worried the oil and gas associations.

“We recommend that EPA specify revocation of certification upon a third party’s third submission of verifiably false data, or upon trespass or otherwise unlawful behavior, or unauthorized distribution of publication of data,” API said.

“EPA needs to unequivocally state that the information/data submitted by third parties will not be the basis for enforcement action by state and federal regulators,” IPAA said.