History of Methane Regulation
Methane, long known as a potent greenhouse gas (GHG), has lagged behind other chemicals in its attention and regulation—especially in the United States. As can be expected, a web of local, state, and federal agencies are responsible for creating and upholding pollution standards. Tracing redundancies or gaps in these standards can be a difficult task, and when it comes to methane, rules cross into the oversight of agencies like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)/Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, and state-level pollution boards, such as California’s Air Resource Board (CARB), among others.
In 2009, the EPA published an Endangerment Finding, identifying the six GHG’s as public health threats and allowing the EPA to regulate GHG sources for the public welfare. These gases are: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). These findings led to the EPA’s first GHG standards for vehicles (which excludes methane), set in 2010.
In 2014, Colorado approved the nation’s first state-level energy sector-related regulations for methane emissions. Since then, a number of states have followed suit in moving to regulate this GHG pollutant, including: Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Some states, like Texas, the Nation’s largest gas and oil producer, has been much slower to embrace change.
In 2016, the Nation’s first Federal methane regulations, in the form of New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), were adopted, establishing BLM oversight of methane emissions on public and tribal lands, primarily affecting the gas and oil industries. The Methane Waste Prevention Rule, also called the Venting and Flaring Rule, has been the subject of much legal debate, having been revised in 2018, with revisions being overturned/vacated in 2020, and being again upheld in 2021 by a Congressional Review Act resolution. An Executive Order by President Biden in early 2021 fueled congressional action. The legal debate over methane emissions is far from over.
Anticipating Future Rules
The year 2022 and beyond is expected to see the proposal of new rules regarding methane emissions in response to new environmental initiatives outlined by President Biden in early 2021, perhaps most notably the U.S. Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan. Coordinating with several governmental agencies, highlights of possible new rules from the Action Plan include: coverage of existing facilities, leak detection/monitoring/repair, and venting/flaring.
Organizations can prepare today to be ready for the establishment of new methane rules tomorrow. For many organizations, renting methane monitoring equipment presents significant advantages over purchasing, including: turn-key solutions, low or no maintenance, and access to technical support.
- JPL Study Identifies Methane Super-Emitters
- Colorado Leads Methane Emissions Regulation
- Bloomberg: Pennsylvania Nears New Methane Rule Approval
- 2009 EPA Endangerment Finding
- EPA Transportation Accomplishments
- EPA Light Duty Vehicle Standards
- BLM Methane and Waste Prevention Rule
- Nat Law Review: EPA Proposes New Methane Regulations
- 2016 EPA New Source Performance Standards
- U.S. Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan
- Harvard EELP Regulatory Tracker: Waste Prevention Rule