On November 2, 2021, President Biden released the US action plan to reduce methane emissions (the plan “). The plan, calling for substantial reductions in US methane emissions, was announced in tandem with an international deal to tackle methane emissions, which took center stage during the second day of the United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow (COP26) this week. The national plan sets the stage for a major interagency regulatory and regulatory initiative coming up that would target multiple sources of methane emissions in the United States and provide incentives to further reduce methane emissions through voluntary programs.
Key points to remember
- The Biden administration aims to update the rules for existing oil and gas infrastructure and impose rules for new oil and gas infrastructure that would result in a 75% reduction in methane emissions from this sector. EPA administrator Michael Regan signed off on the proposed rules, and the 60-day public comment period will begin soon (after publication in the Federal Register). There will also be two days of public hearings.
- The plan would further target methane emissions from a number of sources, including landfills, agriculture and other sources. More specifically, the Plan provides for:
- Adopt an incentive-based system to reduce methane emissions from landfills with a federally enforced safety limit on methane emissions, with the goal of reducing methane emissions from landfills by 70%.
- Tackle methane emissions from agricultural sources through several programs aimed at creating an agriculture-based carbon sequestration system, improving markets for low-carbon agricultural products, and capturing carbon emissions. agricultural methane to produce renewable energy. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has already requested comment this year on some of these items.
- Deploy a number of initiatives to reduce methane emissions from industrial sources, mainly through education and incentives.
- The Administration Plan will work in tandem with a commitment obtained at COP26 from 100 countries to reduce methane emissions.
- While its fate is still uncertain at the time of this writing, an additional mechanism to tackle methane emissions through a system of charges and rebates to fund emissions reduction technologies could be included in the package. reconciliation bill which is currently under consideration in Congress.
- Given that methane is a potent greenhouse gas (GHG), the Authority’s initiatives represent an important step in achieving its goals of (i) achieving zero net GHG emissions across the country. economy by mid-century and (ii) achieve the 50 to 52% reduction in national GHG emissions by 2030 (from 2005 levels) that is contained in the nationally determined contribution of states United States submitted under the Paris Agreement.
Pending settlements and what’s to come
While methane only accounts for about 10% of the country’s total GHG emissions, methane produces a much greater greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide when it is in the atmosphere (although it lasts much shorter life than carbon dioxide). Therefore, tackling methane emissions, as well as emissions of other powerful GHGs such as hydrofluorocarbons, plays an important role in the Biden administration’s ambitious plans to tackle climate change.
Targeting oil and gas methane emissions
At the heart of the Plan is a suite of regulation proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) targeting methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector under the Clean Air Act (CAA). The proposed rule includes more aggressive New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for the oil and gas industry, applicable to new, rebuilt and modified sources in the sector.
Notably, the proposal also includes the EPA’s very first emission guidelines to regulate methane emissions from existing oil and gas installations. The EPA has proposed these emission guidelines under Section 111 (d) of the CAA. The The United States Supreme Court recently granted certiorari to review the scope of the EPA’s authority under this same provision, albeit in the context of EPA’s efforts to regulate CO2 emissions from existing thermal power plants.
In many cases, the NSPS and proposed emission guidelines are based on the application of similar emission reduction systems. Depending on the type of equipment or emission point, these “best emission reduction systems” may include detecting and repairing leaks at well sites and compressor stations, replacing pneumatic controllers with new technologies. zero emissions, the flow of associated gas from oil wells to sales lines, or many other measures. The proposed emission guidelines and NSPS target many types of equipment and emission points, including:
- fugitive emissions from well sites and compressor stations;
- storage containers;
- pneumatic controllers;
- well liquid unloading operations;
- reciprocating and centrifugal compressors;
- pneumatic pumps;
- equipment leaks in natural gas processing plants;
- well completions;
- oil well with associated gas; and
- sweetening units.
The EPA estimates that these initiatives would reduce methane emissions by 41 million tonnes from 2023 to 2035. In addition, the EPA intends to develop a additional proposal in 2022 with additional measures to reduce methane and VOC emissions in response to public feedback. The EPA specifically requests information on other sources of pollution such as abandoned or disconnected wells, ways to involve community members in monitoring emissions, new monitoring technologies and methods to document events. major emissions with industry stakeholders.
Other agencies will target methane emissions through separate regulations. For example, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is working to finalize three rules over the next few months that will ultimately regulate more than 400,000 additional miles Pipeline: The Gas Gathering Pipeline Safety Rule would impose new safety requirements on previously unregulated pipelines; the automatic shut-off valve rule would require rupture mitigation valves on any new pipeline under construction; and the safety rule for gas transmission pipelines includes a number of increased safety requirements to reduce leaks and ruptures. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will focus its efforts on ventilation and flaring on federal lands, with plans for a regulation under the Mineral Leasing Act that would require operators to pay royalties for ventilation and gasoline events. flaring. In addition, the BLM and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) could demand stronger financial guarantees for oil and gas operators. Once the agencies publish the proposed rules, the public will have an opportunity to comment.
Finally, the Authority’s “Build Back Better” infrastructure package includes funding to reduce traditional sources of methane emissions. If enacted, it would allocate $ 4.7 billion to plugging abandoned oil and gas wells, and an additional $ 11.3 billion to address methane emissions from abandoned coal mines. These are all significant sources of methane emissions.
Reduce methane emissions from landfills
Municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills are subject to CAA Section 111 (d) emission guidelines requiring states to develop methane controls and allowing the EPA to intervene if states fail to act. not adequately. In May 2021, the EPA enacted federal plans with methane limits for approximately 1,600 existing DSM landfills not covered by state plans.
These existing programs will be complemented by a Landfill Methane Awareness Program that will help landfills, including smaller landfills not covered by EPA rules, capture methane for energy projects. In addition, the Plan includes measures to reduce food waste.
Reduce agricultural methane emissions
The plan includes several voluntary measures to reduce methane emissions from farms. These aim to create incentives for methane reduction, help capture methane from manure management systems for power generation, improve measurement of methane emissions from agricultural operations, and promote sequestration. of carbon based on agriculture. These will likely build on various initiatives underway at USDA to incentivize and promote GHG sequestration through agriculture and forestry.
Reduce industrial methane emissions
The plan includes initiatives to promote the electrification of industrial processes and other voluntary measures to reduce industrial methane emissions. The plan also includes a number of measures to tackle methane emissions from buildings by reducing natural gas leaks, improving the efficiency of HVAC systems and encouraging conversion to non-emitting or low-emission technologies such as heat pumps.
The global methane commitment
As part of its efforts to promote global commitments to address climate change, the Administration issued a Long term strategy outlining its plans to achieve zero net GHG emissions in the United States by mid-century. In particular, the reduction of methane emissions is a major element of this plan.
The Administration’s efforts to take advantage of international commitments to reduce methane are embodied in the Global Methane Commitment: a commitment to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030 compared to 2020 levels. announcement In September 2021, this joint effort by the United States and the European Union was officially launched during the first week of COP26. More … than 100 countries have now signed the Global Methane Pledge.
The Authority’s Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan launches important new regulatory initiatives aimed at significantly reducing methane emissions, particularly from the oil and gas sector. The plan aims to reduce methane emissions from other sectors of the economy through a combination of existing regulatory initiatives and new voluntary programs to, for example, capture methane for the production of renewable electricity or gas. renewable natural. These initiatives are likely to create both significant regulatory burdens for the industries concerned and significant new economic opportunities in certain sectors.