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Methane Emissions Limits for Texas Oil & Gas Wells?

A disagreement between groups of states is threatening to spill into a lawsuit over methane emissions regulations. Several northeastern states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, are threatening to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act, trying to force the EPA to reconsider its decision not to impose regulations on methane emissions for oil and natural gas drilling, production and processing facilities.

In response to that threat, Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt wrote a letter to the EPA, joined by Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming, calling on the EPA to resist this attempt to force a reconsideration of the methane emissions issue.

Attorney General Pruitt’s letter noted that the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), pursuant to the Clean Air Act, may be reviewed and revised every eight years and that in the most recent review, the EPA did not chose to regulate the methane emissions at issue here. The EPA decided to review state standards instead. In their attempt to change the EPA’s decision, the northeastern states put forth several arguments, each of which the Attorney General countered in his well reasoned letter.

The first argument is that the EPA must make a decision following a review of air quality criteria and ambient air quality standards. Pruitt countered that the review is only necessary “if appropriate” and the EPA determined here it was not appropriate. Secondly, the states said that the EPA must review and evaluate methane emissions in their eight year review of the oil and gas facilities. Attorney General Pruitt wrote that it is not required and has not been the practice in the past. He also noted that it is not clear that methane emissions from oil and gas facilities are significantly contributing to greenhouse gases. He wrote that recent studies measure emissions from these facilities at much lower levels than previously thought. Pruitt also noted that methane emissions are already regulated by the oil and gas producing states and from voluntary industry efforts.

Attorney General Pruitt urged the EPA not to negotiate with the northeastern states over their threat to sue and reach a “friendly settlement,” as it circumvents the law. But if the EPA insists of negotiating, he wrote that that oil and gas producing states should be included in the negotiations, saying, “This letter puts the EPA on notice that any negotiations in this matter should include states that actually have oil and gas operations.” He also wrote that, especially as this would be a departure from the previous EPA practice, the effect of negotiations could mean time and resources to implement any new regulations at a time when state resources are already at a breaking point due to economic problems. Attorney General Pruitt said, “The outcomes of these settlements have a very real effect on families, businesses, communities and state economies.”

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