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US proposes rolling back methane rules

Plan would 'completely eliminate' rules for methane across oil and gas supply chain: EDF

The US Environmental Protection Agency has taken another step to roll back rules designed to reduce methane emissions at oil and gas facilities.

The proposal, unveiled Thursday, would rescind emissions limits for methane from production and processing operations, including well completions, pneumatic pumps, pneumatic controllers, gathering and boosting compressors, natural gas processing plants and storage tanks. However, the changes would keep existing limits for ozone-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in place.

The changes would also remove emissions sources in the transmission and storage segment, including compressor stations, pneumatic controllers, and underground storage vessels, from regulation.

The move drew scrutiny from environmental groups.

The Environmental Defense Fund said the plan would "completely eliminate" rules for methane emissions from the entire oil and gas industry supply chain and remove all federal rules for both methane and VOCs for transportation and storage facilities.

"This proposal is irresponsible, dangerous and out of step with calls from oil and gas industry leaders to preserve and strengthen federal methane rules," said EDF vice president of Energy Matt Watson.

"Without a strong federal framework in place, the case for natural gas evaporates."

The EPA said it was making the changes in accordance with President Donald Trump's 2017 executive order for agencies to review existing regulations that potentially "burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources".

The proposal follows a previous effort by the EPA to gut the methane rules, which were finalised in 2016, during the last days of the previous administration of president Barack Obama. The Trump EPA placed a stay on the rules in 2017 to keep them from going into effect.

The agency said the proposed changes would save the oil and gas industry between $17 million and $19 million a year, meaning savings of $123 million through 2025.

"EPA’s proposal delivers on President Trump’s executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry," said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

"The Trump Administration recognises that methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimise leaks and maximise its use. Since 1990, natural gas production in the United States has almost doubled while methane emissions across the natural gas industry have fallen by nearly 15%. Our regulations should not stifle this innovation and progress."

An alternative plan calls for the EPA to rescind the methane emissions limitations without removing from regulation any sources from the transmission and storage segment of the industry.

The announcement comes even as large oil and gas players have recently expressed their support for stronger methane rules. Earlier this year, Shell came out against the administration's efforts to gut methane rules, and late last year ExxonMobil said it supported the Obama-era regulations.

Yet industry groups hailed the EPA's plan.

"Under this proposal, the oil and natural gas sector will continue to be effectively regulated," The American Petroleum Institute said.

"The regulation of volatile organic compounds drives down methane emissions and allows for innovation and technological advancements that help environmental performance and strengthen industry’s actions to reduce emissions."

The proposal is set to be published in the Federal Register, which will kick off a 60-day comment period. A hearing will be scheduled during the period.

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