O&G companies announce voluntary methane partnership
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December 11, 2017
O&G companies announce voluntary methane partnership

Twenty-six oil and natural gas (O&G) companies have introduced a new voluntary program “focused initially on reducing methane and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions.” Calling themselves Environmental Partnership, the companies have agreed to phase into their operations three environmental performance goals starting January 1, 2018:

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  • Leak Program for Natural Gas and Oil Production Sources. Participants will implement monitoring and timely repair of fugitive emissions at selected sites utilizing detection methods and technologies such as Method 21 or Optical Gas Imaging cameras.
  • Program to Replace, Remove, or Retrofit High-Bleed Pneumatic Controllers. Participants will replace, remove, or retrofit high-bleed pneumatic controllers with low- or zero-emitting devices.
  • Program for Manual Liquids Unloading for Natural Gas Production Sources. Participants will minimize emissions associated with the removal of liquids that, as a well ages, can build up and restrict natural gas flow.

Federal rollbacks proceed slowly

The partnership arrives as the Trump administration continues to try, so far with limited results, to roll back rules promulgated by the Obama administration to control emissions and particularly emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from O&G production and processing activities. In a majority ruling in July 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit told the Trump EPA it could not delay implementing the Obama EPA’s final rule for emissions standards for new, reconstructed, and modified sources in the O&G sector (June 3, 2016, FR).

In June 2017, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to delay implementation of certain requirements in BLM’s final rule to reduce the loss of natural gas at O&G facilities on public land (October 5, 2016, FR). BLM’s attempt to suspend the requirements was also struck down by a federal court because such an action required formal rulemaking. Zinke promptly announced that the BLM would proceed with rulemaking to implement the suspensions, as specified by the court.

Mixed reviews

The companies participating in Environmental Partnership represent operations in every major U.S. natural O&G basin.

“Industry is committed to environmental stewardship, and Environmental Partnership is a good vehicle to deliver industry focus and action,” said Greg Guidry, executive vice president for Shell’s Unconventionals business. “We are proactively taking steps to reduce methane emissions to ensure the sustainability of natural gas for generations to come.” 

But the objectives of the partnership did not impress environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). While commending the companies for “at least acknowledging that there is a problem and that solutions are readily available, the reality is the actions they’ve announced barely scratch the surface,” wrote NRDC Senior Scientist Briana Mordick.

She noted that the above three sources included for methane reductions in the industry program compare to the 10 emissions sources targeted for control in EPA’s existing voluntary Methane Challenge Program.

“The Partnership also gives participants a full five years to implement these reductions—effectively a pass for unnecessary delay in taking any action at all,” wrote Mordick.

Information on Environmental Partnership is here.

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