How the EPA’s Methane Rule Would Target “Super Emitters” – Scientific American | Episode Movies

A new “super emitter” provision in the EPA’s proposal to regulate methane emissions would enable third parties to identify large leaks of the greenhouse gas, increasing the pressure on oil and gas operators to fix any problems quickly.

The EPA released the updated proposal on Friday, coinciding with President Joe Biden’s remarks at the UN climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt (climate wire, Nov. 11). The new proposal, which updates the draft methane rule unveiled at last year’s UN talks, includes a program that would require oil and gas operators to respond to large emission events identified by EPA-approved third parties.

The result would be a larger pool of leak detectors — and potentially an increase in communities working with nonprofits and others to probe nearby oil and gas infrastructure.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for this super-emitter program to share the burden and really make sure that if we see a big leak, we can stop it as quickly as possible,” said Darin Schroeder, an attorney with the task force Air pollution control in an interview. “I think that’s really important for the people who live near these leaks.”

The oil and gas industry is one of the largest sources of methane, capturing about 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the first 20 years. A handful of environmental groups are already using optical gas imaging cameras — the same equipment the EPA uses — to document sources of methane emissions in oil fields across the country.

But when these groups find a leak, their complaints often go to state regulators, who are then responsible for enforcing local pollution regulations. Sometimes the government intervenes, sometimes not.

Under EPA’s draft rule, approved third parties would address such complaints directly to owners and operators, triggering federal requirements. According to an EPA, companies would have to analyze a leak within five days of being notified data sheet. In cases where a leak was caused by a malfunction, operators had 10 days to fix the problem. If mitigation took longer, operators would need to develop a corrective action plan and timeline.

The oil and gas industry has complained in the past about leaks detected by third parties, claiming that these sometimes contain errors. Under the EPA proposal, companies could ask the EPA to revoke a third party’s certification “if they can demonstrate that repeated notifications contained verifiable errors.”

Asked about the proposed EPAs The American Petroleum Institute declined to comment on the Super Emitter Response program. Western Energy Alliance president Kathleen Sgamma said support would depend on how the program is implemented.

“What has happened in the past is that inferences are made that a facility is a ‘super emitter’ when in reality a maintenance event is detected with a short-term release that is not indicative of continued operation,” Sgamma said Friday in an emailed statement.

Harnessing the power of community

Andrew Klooster, an attorney for environmental group Earthworks, said a recent case in Colorado shows how the EPA would help local communities. Nearly two years ago, he pulled up in front of an aging oil field outside of Fort Collins, Colorado, and was struck by a “rather strong, mind-blowing smell.”

Klooster was there to document what homeowners in the area already suspected: the tank battery was leaking a mixture of methane and other pollutants, which blew into the surrounding community. Armed with a $100,000 gas imaging camera, he captured the methane plume and other gases not visible to the naked eye.

However, it was more than 18 months before the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment ordered the tank battery to be shut down.

The state has some of the strictest oil and gas regulations in the country, but the battery shutdown came after a concerted campaign by local homeowners, Earthworks, the city of Fort Collins and Larimer County. State inspectors eventually found that the tanks were not only leaking methane, but also hydrogen sulfide, a potentially deadly gas.

The EPA’s proposal aims to make such reports more frequent — and make the response much faster. In releasing the new draft rule, the agency drew attention to comments from groups affected by oil and gas pollution, including communities, who raised concerns about environmental justice.

The Super Emitter Response program will “create opportunities for communities to work with remote sensing entities to monitor nearby emission sources,” the agency said.

While the oil and gas industry has not spoken out for or against the proposal, some companies have expressed openness to third-party data. In a January 2022 letter to the EPA, BP PLC qualifiedly supported such data.

“Basically, and to the extent third-party organizations are able to contribute lawfully collected and science-based data, BP believes harnessing the power of this information can help identify and resolve issues in a transparent, efficient and accountable manner,” wrote the enterprise.

In Egypt, Biden focused on the standards of the new super-emitter proposal.

Such strong regulatory action to strengthen methane standards, he said, will “ensure it doesn’t get released into communities and affect our public health.”

E&E News reprinted with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides important news for energy and environmental professionals.

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