November 2019, Vol. 246, No. 11


EPA May Cancel Emission Controls for Gas Transmission

The Environmental Protection Agency wants to relieve the gas transmission industry from compliance with 2012 and 2016 Clean Air Act standards related to volatile organic chemicals (VOC) and greenhouse gases, chiefly methane. 

The Obama EPA adopted revised standards for VOCs for the oil and gas sector in 2012 and at the same time, for the first time, required transmission and storage facilities to adhere to those standards, which affect mostly controllers and compressors. In 2016 the agency extended Clean Air Act standards to methane emissions. 

If the Trump EPA-proposed rule issued in September becomes final, the decision could cancel the transmission industry’s inclusion in the “oil and gas” category eliminating any need to comply with either VOC or methane emission restrictions. 

However, the agency broached the possibility of not going forward with that action. The Obama administration made the decision in 2012 to bring transmission companies into the oil and gas category, arguing it was “interpreting” a 1979 ruling on what sectors are in the oil and gas industry, which was “broad enough” to include transmission companies even though they were not specifically mentioned in that 1979 document. 

In 2016, interstate pipeline companies and INGAA asked for a two-year stay of that rule citing provisions affecting fugitive emission requirements at compressor stations, so-called “delay of repair” requirements associated with repairing leaks at compressor stations and obligations related to third-party equipment and altering the phase-in periods for these requirements.

Most of those objected-to provisions went into effect. However, in 2018, the EPA announced it was reconsidering three issues, one of which was the fugitive emission provisions. In response, in December 2018, INGAA-submitted comments asked for numerous changes to the 2016 final rule, including those on leak detection and repair and, for example, revising the delay of repair provisions to eliminate the requirement to complete a repair if a planned vent blowdown occurs. 

The three 2018 proposed changes, including the one on fugitive emissions, were never finalized by the Trump EPA. So, INGAA’s requested changes were never acted on.

But the September 2019 proposed rule would give the association everything it wanted and much more. Any final rule removing transmission companies from the oil and gas industry for the purposes of clean air standards would obviously eliminate all requirements on gas companies imposed by both the 2012 and 2016 final rules. The EPA did offer an alternative proposal that would allow it to eliminate methane restrictions but maintain VOC emission standards for the transmission industry. 

Patrick Creighton, a spokesman for the INGAA, said the group will be filing comments on the proposed rule. Those are due at the end of November. 

Meanwhile, environmental groups have taken issue with the proposal, which would relieve the entire energy industry from having to monitor and limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The VOC limits would still be in effect for all sectors except interstate gas transmission companies and storage companies. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said, “This proposal is a blatant attempt to give oil and gas companies yet another free pass to release as much harmful air pollution as they want while the public pays the price.” — Stephen Barlas

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