A set of white papers by the Environmental Protection Agency suggest the agency is looking for ways to expand its regulatory reach over methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, says Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe.
But their possible regulatory agenda is full of faulty assumptions and bad data, the senator warns.
In a letter to White House’s climate and environment office, Inhofe lays out his concerns that series of white papers show the EPA “lacks a fundamental understanding” of the oil and gas industry and that the agency “believes it has the capacity to actually help oil and natural gas companies” operate more efficiently.
“[N]o regulatory body should have this perspective,” writes Inhofe in his letter to the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “Further, the White Papers are handicapped by inaccurate and outdated data estimates of industry-wide emissions.”
Currently, the EPA only has voluntary programs aimed at reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations, which were reduced 40 percent between 2006 and 2012. But President Obama’s climate agenda includes a goal of reducing U.S. methane emissions, including emissions from the energy industry and agricultural operations.
Earlier this year, Obama laid out his plans to reduce dairy industry methane emissions 25 percent by 2020. This announcement drew protests from federal lawmakers from agricultural states who warned of a possible tax on cow flatulence.
But the White House has also set its sights on oil and gas operations. Several studies have come out in the past couple of years trying to quantify how much methane is leaked into the atmosphere. Estimates of methane leakage rates from natural gas operations range from as low as 1.5 percent to as high as 3 percent (sometimes even more).
No matter the actual level of methane leaks, the Obama administration is determined to reduce the greenhouse gas, which is 30-times the potency of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period though it dissipates more quickly.
“There are lots of things we can do regulatorily under the Clean Air Act, and there are lots of things we can do to expand our voluntary programs,” EPA chief Gina McCarthy recently told executives at the Barclays Energy-Power Conference this week.
The EPA already requires natural gas wells to emissions from hydraulic fracturing operations called the “green completions” rule. This rule requires companies to capture volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other pollutants that can escape from gas wells. Methane is inadvertently trapped by this requirement because of the mandate to capture VOCs.
The “green completion” rule for gas operations could be extended to cover oil production. Other agencies are also considering limits to methane flaring on federal lands and other mandates on drilling operations.
“Our challenge, this fall, is to put out a strategy that is engaging (and) a strategy that will continue the dialogue moving forward, but a strategy that will clearly articulate how we can most cost-effectively reduce VOCs and methane so we get the job done that the American people want to see us get done and ensure that oil and natural gas will continue to be a big factor in every state (and) every county in the most positive way we can make it,” McCarthy said, according to the Houston Chronicle. “This is really about building a healthy industry.”
But Inhofe is worried the EPA is going to move forward with a regulatory regime based on faulty assumptions and data.
“I urge the EPA to gather more information, revise the White Papers, and allow an official, robust comment period prior to engaging in any policymaking discussion that could impact the oil and natural gas industry,” Inhofe wrote to the White House.
The EPA, however, says the white papers aren’t meant to advocate policy, but instead are meant to help them better understand the issue of methane leaks.
“We didn’t put out the papers to advocate policy — we genuinely wanted to understand the issue better, and we’ve gotten significant feedback on where opportunities and challenges lie,” an EPA spokeswoman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We’ll be putting out a strategy this fall that looks at policies available currently and tools we have to continue the discussion.”
“There are critics throwing around lofty doomsday scenarios if we act on climate, but for decades when science pointed us to health risks, we acted responsibly and the economy continued to grow,” the agency spokeswoman said. “We had faith in the ingenuity of American industry. And industry seized opportunities to retool, and resurge.”
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