Comment Period Ends October 31, 2016 for EPA Draft ICR Surveys That Could Lead to Expansion of GHG Regulations of Methane Emissions to Existing Sources in Oil and Gas Sector Under Clean Air Act

Mon Oct 17th, On Environmental Law, by

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has published a second draft for public comment of an information collection request (ICR) that will provide information for EPA to use to develop comprehensive regulations to reduce methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions from existing sources. Public comments are due by October 31, 2016.

In particular, EPA is seeking information about natural gas venting during maintenance activities at existing oil and gas facilities, including: well and pipeline blowdowns, equipment malfunctions and flashing emissions from storage tanks, and other information regarding underground storage facilities. In particular, EPA will seek information about equipment and emissions controls and their associated costs. EPA intends to use this information to regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

Mandatory Information Requests

Owners and operators of wells and other emission sources in the oil and gas sector will receive mandatory information request letters under Section 114 of the Clean Air Act regarding methane and VOCs by the end of 2016.

The draft ICR consists of two types of mandatory information requests: operator survey for oil and gas production sources, and a facility survey for several segments of the onshore oil and gas sector. Owners and operators will have 30 days to complete the operator surveys and 120 days to complete the facility surveys. 

The operator survey is expected to collect parent company information and detailed facility-level information, including:

  • the number of producing wells, wells that have been hydraulically fractured or refractured, and capped or abandoned wells;
  • all well identification numbers; the number of tanks and compressors; and
  • whether there are flares or liquids unloading at the facility.

EPA will send the facility survey to a random sampling of facilities across each industry segment, including: production, gathering and boosting, processing, compression/transmission, pipeline, natural gas storage, and liquefied natural gas storage and import/export facilities. The facility survey will collect detailed unit-specific information about existing emissions sources, emission controls being used in the field, and management practices used to reduce emissions. The facility survey will require detailed information on selected wells, in some cases randomly selected wells, and the centralized production sites those wells feed.

EPA will accept comments on the new ICR until October 31, 2016. After that, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will have 30 to 60 days to review the draft. Assuming the OMB approves the draft ICR, the letters are expected to be received by owners and operators as early as November and as late as the end of 2016. The deadlines for responding will begin to run when the owners and operators receive the letters. If the letters are received in November, then the owner/operator survey responses will be due within 30 days, which will likely be before the end of 2016. The facility surveys will be due within 120 days, within the first quarter of 2017.

Next Steps For EPA Will Be An Oil and Gas Rule

EPA is expected to use the information received from owners and operators in the ICR surveys to inform and assist EPA to draft a proposed rule for existing sources of methane and VOC emissions in the oil and gas industry. Such rule would be subject to notice and comment, as well as approval by the OMB. EPA would be relying on the Clean Air Act Section 111(d) to provide its authority to develop an existing source rule for the oil and gas sector.

EPA’s reliance on Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act in developing the Clean Power Plan is currently being challenged in the D.C. Circuit. The outcome of the Clean Power Plan case will have a certain impact on EPA’s plan to develop an oil and gas existing source rule. Owners and operators of onshore and offshore oil and gas facilities in California will be impacted by the mandatory information request. Our California air lawyers have experience in the Clean Air Act to assist with responding to these requests.

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