The Environmental Protection Agency’s release of a proposed replacement rule opens a period for public comment, ahead of any final administration decision on the change.
The move is part of an ongoing effort by the White House to scrap 2016 rules for finding and stopping methane leaks from oil and gas sites.
In a statement announcing the planned rollback, acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler acknowledged the rollback would lead to more methane leaking into the atmosphere, but said relaxing agency oversight would save industry members $75 million in regulatory costs annually.
“These common-sense reforms will alleviate unnecessary and duplicative red tape and give the energy sector the regulatory certainty it needs to continue providing affordable and reliable energy to the American people,” Wheeler said.
According to EPA, the rule change would amend 2016 rule changes that deal with performance standards for the oil and natural gas industry, including “amendments to the fugitive emissions monitoring requirements in the rule.”
A best practices guide for emissions monitoring released in 2007 found poor management of these leaking gases can lead to over 70,000 tons of “volatile organic compounds” leaking out every year.
It called these leaks the largest source of toxic emissions that contribute to ground level ozone “a major component of smog, and causes or aggravates respiratory disease, particularly in children, asthmatics, and healthy adults who participate in moderate exercise.”
However EPA cited multiple comments from oil and gas industry members praising the roll back since it first began in 2016. According to the agency, the comments included concerns over the amount of additional toxic gasses vented from systems in order to repair leaky systems, known as a “blow down.”
These blow downs occur normally as part of scheduled maintenance when leaks would be addressed, however the Obama-era regulations forced shutdowns, and blow downs, outside of normally scheduled times as leaks were detected.
The 2016 rule change allowed for more time between such shutdowns, inspections and leak fixes. The new proposed rule change allows even more time.
“Today’s technical amendments recognize successful infrastructure already in place in states like Ohio to protect public health and the environment,” said Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler, who praised the changes as they align with state-level requirements. “EPA’s commonsense proposal supports state leadership through cooperative federalism and removes unnecessary red tape and burdensome duplication that only serve as roadblocks to responsible energy development in Ohio.”
The Obama Administration implemented the now targeted rules back in 2015 and hoped the rule changes would lead to a nearly 50 percent reduction in methane release by 2025. But earlier this year, Wyoming Public Media reported companies were struggling to meet the rules’ lofty goals.
The Trump administration, through the Bureau of Land Management, tried to suspend the Obama-era rule but its attempt was stymied by a federal judge in California in February of this year.
“It appears that BLM is simply ‘casually ignoring’ all of its previous findings and arbitrarily changing course,” wrote U.S. District Judge William Orrick III in his ruling. Orrick said the agency failed to provide any evidence which would show the rule “unnecessarily encumber[s] energy production, constrain[s] economic growth, and prevent[s] job creation.”