Methane is a byproduct of natural gas excavation and environmentalists cite its 86-times more potent warming effect as cause for alarm. Oil and gas producers often flare, i.e. burn, the excess gas rather than release it wholesale into the atmosphere.
Because of its powerhouse production, Texas’ Permian Basin has become the center of the methane fight. While the raw amount of gas flared has increased over the last two decades, producers are getting better at curtailing the practice.
From June 2019 to May 2021, flaring intensity among Texas producers decreased 70 percent, according to the Texas Railroad Commission which regulates the oil and gas industry. Flaring intensity is the amount of gas flared per barrel of oil produced.
Announced Tuesday, the EPA’s proposals would require a “comprehensive monitoring program for new and existing well sites and compressor stations”; a standard of zero emissions for pneumatic controllers, devices that push fossil fuels from point A to point B through pipelines; prohibition on gas venting and mandate its capture and sale; establishment of new performance standards for certain infrastructure along the natural gas supply chain.
In a statement to The Texan, president of the Texas Pipeline Association Thure Cannon said, “President Biden’s methane emissions announcement from the UN climate summit is unnecessary governmental overreach.” Cannon said that the “unprecedented and onerous standards” will “[make] it more expensive to produce, transport and refine and process our resources will undoubtedly raise America’s energy bills.”
The rule stems from Congress’s Clean Air Act passed earlier this year — established after a policy swing between former Presidents Obama and Trump and now to Biden.
“With this historic action, EPA is addressing existing sources from the oil and natural gas industry nationwide, in addition to updating rules for new sources, to ensure robust and lasting cuts in pollution across the country,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.
The EPA estimates the rule would reduce methane emissions by 41 million tons from 2023 to 2035 and say the savings from previously lost and now re-captured product would total $4.5 billion per year.
Arguing the inverse, the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association (TIPRO) expressed concern that the rules could disproportionately hamper smaller producers and said they will continue to engage in the rulemaking process on behalf of its members.
The group pointed to a prospective tax on natural gas being discussed in Congress, saying, “This punitive tax would result in the loss of tens of thousands of direct U.S. oil and gas jobs, increase household energy bills and make our country more reliant on foreign sources of energy.”
TIPRO fears the combination of the new regulations and a new tax would hurt smaller producers and thus competition in Texas’ oil and gas industry. Large producers like Shell and Exxon Mobil have long supported such regulations, having the financial capital at hand to absorb compliance costs.
Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, told The Texan in a statement, “The mission to reduce CO2, methane and other sources is clear, and the commitment from the industry is unwavering. Our companies will be reviewing the proposal to determine if these rules are structured in a workable and reasonable manner.”
The policy comes as world leaders jet off to Glasgow, Scotland for a United Nations climate change summit aimed at reaffirming its commitment to reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
“High energy prices only reinforce the urgent need to diversify sources, double down on clean energy development and adapt promising new clean energy technology so we can not only remain overly reliant on one source of power to power our economies and our communities,” Biden said at the summit.
Currently, prices for gasoline and a litany of other, run-of-the-mill products are soaring due to supply chain congestion. Shortages have spurred price over $80 per barrel of oil and $5.40 per million cubic feet of natural gas, both substantially higher than at the beginning of the year.
As travel increases, the market struggles to catch up and adjust to the new level of consumption. And in the meantime, federal domestic policies are wreaking havoc in the speculative sections of the oil and gas industry that are heavily reliant on forecasting.
Contrary to his remarks at the U.N. summit, Biden’s administration recently asked OPEC to ramp up its oil production to put downward pressure on global prices.
Lauren Pagel, policy director for environmental organization Earthworks, said of the proposed rule, “While this is an important step forward, in a Biden-declared climate ‘code red’ his administration needs to use the full power of the Clean Air Act to cut methane pollution from oil and gas production without industry exemptions.”
“Climate justice during a climate emergency means using every tool in the toolbox including not just a stronger rule, but also declaring a National Emergency on climate change,” she added.
The progressive left has long suggested that national emergency powers be used to unilaterally implement policies aimed at “solving” climate change — and 2020’s widespread use of those powers only galvanized environmentalists further.
But the Biden administration has stopped short of such a sweeping dictate, instead settling for other policies via executive order. Those policies include the retraction of a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline that would have created another path for oil from Alberta down to Texas refineries and the prohibition of new and renewed drilling leases on federal lands. The latter is currently held up in court after a district judge halted its implementation.
To head off the flaring-focused policies, oil and gas producers and associations created the Texas Methane and Flaring Coalition — a project aimed at “collectively identify and promote operational and environmental recommended practices to minimize flaring and methane emissions.”
The rule must go through a 60-day comment period before going into effect. Once published in the Federal Register, public comments may be made here.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect the position taken by TIPRO.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.