On March 30th, at a session of the Global Methane Forum in Washington, DC, the EPA launched its Methane Challenge Program to encourage companies to voluntarily reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector. This program seeks to build on the work of the EPA Natural Gas STAR Program that has been in existence, in one form or another, for over 20 years. Back in January 2015, as part of its announced plan to reduce oil and gas industry methane emissions 40-45% by 2025, the Administration committed to issuing regulations for new and modified sources which it has done. However, it declined to regulate existing sources of pollution. Instead EPA said it would use a revamped voluntary program to address existing sources. In its 2015 announcement, the Administration stated that “[a]chieving significant methane reductions from these voluntary industry programs and state actions could reduce the need for future regulations,” a view that countless studies have shown is incorrect.
CATF has engaged and will continue to engage with the EPA to ensure that the Methane Challenge Program is as strong and as transparent as possible. We applaud the work that the EPA has done and the commitments that member companies have made, but we emphasize the fact that these voluntary efforts will not be nearly enough to reach the Administration’s goal of reducing methane emissions.
As part of the Methane Challenge Program, a total of 41 companies have committed to company-wide implementation of best management practices to limit methane pollution as founding members. There is good news and bad news in the EPA’s founding member lineup:
- The Bad News: The oil and gas industry consists of over six thousand companies, so 41 is a relatively small number. In addition, none of the founding members are oil and gas exploration and production companies. Given that 73% of the industry’s methane emissions come from oil and gas production (according to the draft 2016 GHG Inventory), the absence of these companies will necessarily limit the overall reductions possible from this voluntary program.
- The Good News: The majority of the companies (37) are Local Distribution Companies, many of which have committed to accelerating the replacement of leaky underground gas pipelines. According to the EPA, these 37 companies account for nearly 60% of the natural gas utility customers in the country. It is promising to see that so many distribution companies participating in the program. Methane emissions from the distribution sector are not covered by the currently proposed methane regulations, so voluntary could help fill this critical gap.
Nevertheless, these voluntary actions are no substitute for strong, nation-wide safeguards to cut methane emissions across the industry. Clean Air Task Force and others have been making the case for months that such voluntary measures will not yield enough methane reductions to reach the Administration’s goal (see Mind the Gap). And earlier in March, the Administration, as part of a state visit by the Prime Minister of Canada, admitted as much, and committed to moving forward with a regulatory approach to existing source methane emissions. Only strong, enforceable regulations of existing sources will enable the U.S. to achieve its 40-45% oil and gas methane reduction goal.