Orange County Branch Newsletter

October 2015

Law and CE News

EPA Proposes Amendments to Emission Standards for Oil and Gas Sector


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has garnered several headlines this year through its activities designed to strengthen its control and enforcement options for what it perceives to be gaps in application of some of the major federal regulatory frameworks such as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, among others.  Getting a lot of attention this year was the EPA decision to modify the definition of what constitutes “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act.  A significant amount of the attention has been due to a strong voice in opposition to the new definition voiced by many interested parties across many industries.

On January 24, 2015, the Obama Administration issued a release from the Office of the Press Secretary outlining the administration’s desire to “address climate change and help ensure a cleaner, more stable environment for future generations.”  The stated goal by the administration is to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector by 40-45% by 2025.

Delivering on that mandate, the EPA has recently given Notice[1] that it intends to revise regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector.  The EPA is seeking to add to existing regulations to reduce emissions during production, processing, transmission and storage activities.  For the engineers that design, own, operate, maintain or decommission oil and gas facilities, no matter the stage of the process you are involved in, these new rules may have a direct effect on how you do business in the near future and can affect the applicable standard of care for consultant engineers.

The proposed new emissions standards were first included in a Notice from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on August 18, 2015 of intent to publish a proposed rule to modify the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) previously put in place by the EPA.[2] The Notice states that “the EPA is proposing to amend the NSPS to include standards for reducing methane as well as VOC emissions across the oil and natural gas source category.”  The EPA justifies the extension of the standards to include methane as well as volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions because methane is a greenhouse gas that endangers public health and welfare.  Moreover, the EPA states in the proposed rules that “the oil and natural gas category is currently one of the country's largest emitters of methane.”

The proposed amendments by the EPA are designed to address unregulated emissions sources, those sources that are regulated for VOC’s but not methane, and for equipment that is used but not consistently regulated under the NSPS for VOCs.  For the latter, the EPA is proposing extending existing regulations for VOCs on certain equipment to other equipment which did not previously have NSPS restrictions for VOCs.  Some of the equipment that is going to be regulated (or have strengthened regulations) under these proposed rules include compressors, pneumatic controllers, pneumatic pumps, hydraulically fractured oil well completions, and fugitive emissions from well sites and compressor stations.

These rules are not yet in effect and are still going to be open for public comment.  The public comment period will be published in the Federal Register where the official version of the EPA’s Notice will be included. Interested parties are able to submit comments to these newly proposed rules and customarily the comment period is sixty days of publication in the Federal Register.

These proposed revisions to the NSPS also appear to be in concert with the ASCE’s own public policies.  For example, ASCE Policy Statement 488[3] supports “strategies and efforts to achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from existing and future infrastructure systems.”  However, whether or not the proposed changes to the NSPS fulfill all of the goals embodied in ASCE Policy Statement 488 is not yet clear.  As an example, are the promulgated changes “reasonable targets and timeframes?”

As an engineer working in the oil and gas industry, whether you work in the public sector or in the private sector, these newly proposed standards when made effective will likely result in changes to equipment, as well as the monitoring and oversight of equipment and processes by local, state and federal authorities.  While the final version of the rule is yet to be determined, getting involved in the legislative process is an opportunity to change the way you and everyone else handles methane and VOC emissions in the oil and gas sector.

Please contact us at the Oakland, South Pasadena, Orange, or San Diego offices to discuss further.

[1] Docket No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0505.

[2] The full text of the New Source Performance Standards are contained in 40 CFR Part 60.


Please contact us to discuss further.

Christian E. Bredeson  |   

Ryan P.

Collins Collins Muir + Stewart LLP

Nothing contained in this article should be considered legal advice. Anyone who reads this article should consult with an attorney before acting on anything contained in this or any other article on legal matters, as facts and circumstances will vary from case to case.