California Proposes Strong Methane Rules

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) met last week to consider adopting some of the nation’s strongest rules to limit methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. While there are a few key areas where the rules can be strengthened, they’ll go a long way towards reducing emissions of potent, climate-changing methane from the industry that is our nation’s top industrial source of this harmful pollutant. Reducing methane can also have the co-benefit of reducing emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and air toxics that pose serious threats to human health.

Specifically, CARB’s proposed rules would:

  • Cover equipment and processes responsible for the majority of emissions through the natural gas value chain from production to transmission, both onshore and offshore;
  • Require operators to periodically go out and proactively look for leaks, which is critical to finding and fixing leaks quickly – especially the so-called “super-emitters” that are responsible for a disproportionate share of emissions;
  • Apply to both new *and existing* sources of emissions.

That last point is critical. Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun the process regulating existing methane sources, current federal rules only apply to new sources of methane. But the vast majority of emissions come from sources already in operation, meaning that addressing these existing sources is extremely important to meeting both California’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and the Obama Administration’s goal of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025.

As the rules stand, they will already be some of the best in the nation, but we and our partners think there are a few other simple, low-cost things that would help ensure California is doing all it can to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations, including:

  • Make sure all potential sources of methane emissions at underground natural gas storage facilities are being monitored. The disastrous Aliso Canyon leak was a thankfully rare event, but smaller leaks can also occur and may go unnoticed without rigorous monitoring.
  • Phase out pneumatic devices that continuously bleed natural gas into the atmosphere and prohibit or phase-out pneumatic devices that bleed high amounts of natural gas intermittently and/or reduce emissions from these devices. Lower emitting devices are readily available.
  • Tighten the deadlines for when operators have to start testing and controlling emissions from storage tanks and separation equipment and get rid of loopholes that exempt some of this equipment from the new rules.
  • Don’t allow operators to decrease the frequency at which they go out and check for leaks. Scientific research shows that these types of leaks occur randomly, meaning it’s more or less impossible to predict when and where they might occur, therefore making it of paramount importance to go look for them regularly.

These rules are a major step forward toward reining in methane pollution and we urge CARB to adopt them without delay. California and other leading states are showing that regulating methane from existing sources can be done, and EPA should swiftly follow through with its own existing source rules. 

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