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EPA delays methane rule for oil, gas sector

19 Apr 2017, 9.39 pm GMT

EPA delays methane rule for oil, gas sector

Washington, 19 April (Argus) — The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has delayed regulations requiring oil and gas companies to monitor for methane leaks, its latest effort to unwind rules affecting the energy industry.

EPA yesterday told industry groups it was delaying by 90 days an initial 3 June deadline for companies to test for methane leaks from new equipment. The testing requirements were part of first-time methane regulations that the EPA is reconsidering as part of an "energy independence" executive order President Donald Trump signed last month.

US oil and gas producers have sued to block the methane rules, which would have only applied to new and modified equipment but could have eventually led to more costly rules for existing equipment. EPA has asked a federal court to delay litigation as it evaluates the rule, something environmentalists are attempting to block.

EPA yesterday said that, for now, it had only decided to reconsider the leak testing requirement in the regulation. But the agency is likely to move to reconsider other parts of the methane rules that require installation of equipment to reduce emissions. Doing that would require a full rulemaking process that could take more than a year to complete.

EPA last month separately proposed to delay by two years tougher safety regulations at refineries and chemical manufacturing plants. Environmentalists today urged the agency not to move ahead with plans to delay the regulations until February 2019 because of their concerns it would lead to more accidents and greater risk to communities that live near industrial facilities.

"All across our country are hazardous facilities that are stationary weapons of mass destruction," former US Senate Intelligence Committee staff member David Halperin said today at a hearing EPA hosted in Washington, DC.

The safety rules, which had an initial effective date of 14 March, would have required refineries and chemical plants to improve coordination with emergency responders and consider the use of processes that limit the risk of accidents. EPA last month delayed the rule until 19 June and then proposed a further delay until 2019.

US refiners support the delay. Valero regulatory affairs director Matthew Hodges today said that extending the compliance deadline by two years would not compromise safety and argued that the initial regulations were rushed.

EPA yesterday also sought to delay litigation over a rule directing 36 states to modify air quality rules that have exempted from facilities from needing to control air pollution during periods of start-up, shutdown and maintenance. Environmentalists say those exemptions have allowed refineries and power plants to release large amounts of air pollution for years without being subject to penalties under the Clean Air Act.

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