EPA issues 90-day stay on fugitive methane emissions rule

By Patrick C. Miller | April 26, 2017

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a 90-day stay on the compliance date for a rule finalized last June requiring the oil and gas industry to monitor fugitive methane emissions.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt last week sent a letter to four organizations that had petitioned the agency either reconsider the rule or issue an administrative stay on certain provisions in it. The letter said the EPA will convene a proceeding to reconsider fugitive emissions monitoring requirements.

Pruitt’s letter is addressed to representatives of the American Petroleum Institute, the Texas Oil and Gas Association, the Independent Associations and the GPA Midstream Association. The organizations petitioned the EPA in August 2016 on the agency’s final rule titled, “Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emissions Standards for New, Reconstructed and Modified Sources.” The rule was published in the Federal Register in June 2016.

In his letter, Pruitt said Issues raised in petitions include objections to provisions for requesting and receiving an alternative means of emission limitations and the inclusion of low-production wells. The provisions and some of their aspects weren’t included in the proposed rule, preventing public comment on them, he noted.

Mark Sutton, GPA Midstream president and CEO, said, the stay will enable the organization’s members to delay or suspend implementation of their fugitive emissions monitoring programs for compressor stations affected by the rule. Companies will have the option to defer thousands of dollars in expenditures for each affected station on development of monitoring plans, purchase of monitoring equipment and conducting of initial monitoring surveys, he explained.

"GPA Midstream has a long history of working collaboratively with state and federal regulators to identify commonsense solutions on a wide range or regulatory issues, including many environmental issues,” Sutton said. “We appreciate this continued collaborative working relationship with EPA during its rule making and reconsideration process.”

Congressman Kevin Cramer, R-N.D, said, “I’m encouraged by EPA’s notice to reassess their methane rule facing the oil and gas industry and ultimately the states responsible for implementing the rule in the field.” He said regulations should be tailored to diverse geographies across the U.S. and overseen by those who live in those areas.

“In this instance, industry has every natural incentive to capture methane since it’s the product they sell and states like North Dakota have rules on the books to prevent waste,” Cramer said. “The federal government had no business injecting themselves in this arena and should partner with states and industry like it has in the past.”

North Dakota is one of 13 states involved in a lawsuit against the EPA fugitive methane emissions rule, defending states’ sovereign jurisdiction over oil and gas regulation. A decision on the lawsuit—defined as a petition for review—is forthcoming in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.