EPA Extends Comment Period for Oil and Gas Methane and VOC Emissions Rulemaking

Vinson & Elkins LLP

On November 15, 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) published a proposed rule that included three separate actions under the Clean Air Act that target new and existing air emission sources at oil and natural gas well sites, natural gas gathering and boosting compressor stations, natural gas processing plants, and transmission and storage facilities. EPA has now extended the deadline for commenting on this proposal to January 31, 2022.

As described further here, EPA’s proposal would:

  • Expand EPA’s methane emission guidelines to cover 1 million existing oil and gas wells, almost 2,000 existing interstate natural gas compressor stations, and over 500 existing natural gas processing plants;
  • Dramatically expand the number of storage tank batteries that will trigger the applicability threshold for volatile organic compound (“VOC”) emissions;
  • Prohibit flaring of associated gas from oil wells unless the operator shows that a gas sales line is not accessible;
  • Subject well liquids unloading operations to a zero emission limit; and
  • Requests public comments on regulating abandoned wells, pigging operations, and tank truck loading operations.

EPA has not published proposed rule text for any of its three proposals. Nor has it yet posted the essential technical support documents or regulatory impact analysis necessary to understanding the proposals more fully. Instead, EPA expressed its intention to publish a “supplemental proposal” that would include proposed rule text, likely in early 2022. Presumably, EPA will solicit comments on the actual proposed rule text when it is issued. In the meantime, EPA is soliciting comments on what is effectively a preamble to a proposed rule, with comments due by the end of January. Public comments play an important role in shaping the final rule, and also serve as a key part of the administrative record, which forms the basis for any future court challenges to the proposals. The EPA is currently targeting publication of the final rule by October 2022, per the Biden administration’s recently released Fall 2021 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions. However, while this rulemaking represents a key priority for the EPA, given the Biden administration’s ambitious agenda with respect to climate change related rulemakings, it is difficult to predict whether or not the agency will meet its own timeline.

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