December 2021, Vol. 248, No. 12


Biden Methane Proposal Ups Pipeline Responsibility

By Stephen Barlas, Contributing Editor, Washington D.C.

The Biden administration proposal to limit methane emissions from pipeline transmission compressors and pneumatic controllers goes beyond what the Obama administration had put in place in 2017.   

The Trump administration dropped those Obama methane rules only to have Congress this past summer, controlled by Democrats, pass a resolution of disapproval of the Trump rule, forcing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to repropose the Obama rules with some additional controls.  

In addition, the EPA says it is considering even more aggressive regulation in 2022 for certain oil and gas operations, in the case of natural gas transmission lines, pigging.  

The major expansion of the Obama methane rules is in the Biden administration’s application of controls to the emissions from natural gas-driven intermittent vent pneumatic controllers. They were left untouched by the Obama administration because when operated and maintained properly, methane and VOC emissions from intermittent controllers are substantially lower than emissions from other types of natural gas-driven controllers.   

However, the EPA is now aware that these intermittent controllers often malfunction and vent during idle periods. Emissions factors considering this fact are around four times higher than the factors for low-bleed controllers.  

The EPA contends the emissions from natural gas-powered pneumatic controllers represent a sizable portion of the total emissions from the oil and natural gas Industry. The agency is proposing a requirement that all controllers (continuous bleed and intermittent vent) in the production and natural gas transmission and storage segments must have a methane and VOC emission rate of zero.  

The wrinkle here is regarding existing v. new controllers. In the former case, states will have the opportunity to adopt controls short of zero emissions if they are able to convince the EPA that they can achieve the same methane reductions via another method. There would be no such flexibility for new controllers.  

In another instance of the Biden EPA tighten the Obama rules, the exemption from methane emission standards goes away. That exemption from standards was in cases where the use of a pneumatic controller affected facility with a bleed rate greater than the applicable standard was required based on functional needs, including response time, safety, and positive actuation. The EPA is not maintaining that exemption except for in very limited circumstances.   

All new and existing compressor stations would monitor and repair leaks at least once every three months. Surveys must include inspections of equipment that is most prone to large leaks and malfunctions, including hatches on storage tanks and flares  

“INGAA supports federal new and existing source methane emissions regulations that are safe, effective, and protect energy reliability. To be successful, methane regulations should allow our engineers and technicians appropriate flexibility to further reduce emissions from natural gas operations, using a range of available technologies and tools, while avoiding activities that may impair energy reliability,” said Amy Andryszak, President and CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA).  

INGAA is reviewing the EPA’s proposals and plans to engage with the agency on the proposed requirements that will affect the natural gas transmission industry’s ability to deliver energy while minimizing emissions.  

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