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EPA scraps methane reporting for oil and gas industries

Pruitt kills data collection at request of several states

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
March 8, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 11

Photo shows oil pump jacks in Colorado with Rocky Mountains in the distance.
Credit: Arina P Habich/Shutterstock
The Trump EPA nixed requirements for existing oil and gas operations to report their methane emissions.

The Trump Administration has withdrawn an EPA request that oil and natural gas companies provide information on their methane emission from field operations.

The Obama Administration had sent the data request to some 15,000 oil and gas companies late last year. It asked for basic information on the numbers and types of equipment used at onshore drilling and production facilities as well as more detailed information on methane emissions sources and control devices.

Earlier in 2016, EPA issued methane control regulations for new oil and gas facilities, but did not address existing facilities. The data collection rule was an attempt by the Obama EPA to learn more about oil and gas operations in preparation for emissions regulations at operating facilities.

Oil and gas operations are the largest industrial source of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent that carbon dioxide, according to EPA.

The U.S. is experiencing an oil and gas bonanza with some million wells in operation. However, in the rush to exploit the resource much is unclear—even the exact number of wells is uncertain. Confusion also surrounds the quantity of methane emissions. The now-canceled reporting was intended to help resolve this uncertainty.

“There is a lack of transparency in oil and gas operations,” notes Mark Brownstein, vice president of climate and energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, an activist group. “We really don’t know what is out there. You can’t manage what you are not measuring. The irony is industry called for this information before EPA proposes to regulate existing oil and gas facilities.”

“It is a missed opportunity,” says Rob Jackson, a Stanford University earth scientist. Some companies are already collecting—and often sharing—information on their methane emissions, he adds.

Industry applauds the withdrawal. Howard Feldman, the American Petroleum Institute’s director of regulatory affairs, calls EPA’s announcement a “positive step in reducing significant oil industry uncertainties and burdens.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt says he received a request the day before the March 2 withdrawal from nine state attorneys general and the governors of Mississippi and Kentucky to kill the reporting request. EPA, he said, takes such concerns “seriously and is committed to strengthening its partnership with the states.”



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