President Obama recently released a Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions (Strategy) that sets forth a multi-pronged plan for reducing methane emissions both domestically and globally. Domestically, the plan is to focus on four sources of methane—the oil and gas sector, coal mines, agriculture and landfills—and to pursue a mix of regulatory actions with respect to those sources. Energy companies now have the opportunity to help influence exactly what those actions will be.
For the oil and gas sector, the Strategy indicates that the federal government will focus primarily on encouraging voluntary efforts to reduce methane emissions—such as bolstering the existing Natural Gas STAR Program and promoting new technologies. But the Strategy also identifies two areas of potential mandatory requirements. First, later this year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will issue a draft rule on minimizing venting and flaring on public lands. Regulated parties will have the opportunity to submit comments after the proposed rule is released. Second, the Strategy confirms that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will decide this fall whether to propose any mandatory methane control requirements on oil and gas production companies. Consistent with that announcement, on April 15, 2014, EPA released five technical whitepapers discussing methane emissions from the oil and gas production process. The agency is soliciting comments on those whitepapers—they are due by June 16, 2014.
For coal mines, the Strategy indicates that BLM will soon be seeking public input on developing a program to capture and sell methane from coal mines on public lands. The Strategy further indicates that EPA will continue promoting voluntary methane capture efforts.
For landfills, the Strategy calls for public input on whether EPA should update its regulations for existing solid waste landfills, indicates that EPA will be proposing new regulations for future landfills, and indicates that EPA will continue to support the development of voluntary landfill gas-to-energy projects.
For agriculture, the Strategy does not suggest any new regulatory requirements. Instead, it indicates that EPA and the Department of Energy will work to promote voluntary methane control efforts and that those agencies will place special emphasis on promoting biogas—starting with the release of a “Biogas Roadmap” in June 2014.
In addition to these sector-specific approaches, the Strategy emphasizes the need for improved methane measurement and modeling techniques, both domestically and globally. All of the topics covered by the Strategy are ones about which regulated parties may want to submit comments—to EPA, BLM and/or the Office of Management and Budget.