EPA Moves to Enlarge Its Footprint on Methane Regulation

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Methane, the powerful greenhouse gas responsible for a disproportionate percentage of man-made global warming, has for years been targeted with increasing oversight and regulation as a result of growing concerns about climate change. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under the Biden administration, is seeking to expand its stance on the issue with sweeping new proposals.

The EPA put out new regulations on November 2, 2021, including a proposal that would reduce more than 40 million tons of methane from 2023 to 2035 by, among other things, prohibiting “venting,” or the practice of allowing excess methane gas to escape directly into the atmosphere from gas and oil fields.

The regulations would also increase the number of mandatory inspections to identify and correct leaks and fissures from tanks to reduce “fugitive emissions.” The EPA says these proposals would be the equivalent of shutting down more than 200 coal plants for a year.

Reception among environmental groups was generally positive, but there are still concerns.  Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, for example, acknowledged the significance of cutting methane emissions, but noted the lack of focus on “flaring,” or the practice of burning off excess methane, which converts it to less-harmful carbon dioxide. In addition, the Environmental Defense Fund cited the lack of consideration for smaller, more leak-prone wells.

The next step in the process is for the EPA to take public comment on the proposed rule for 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register, and to hold public hearings and training, which are scheduled to begin November 16, 2021.