The pace of new federal air quality regulations to reduce releases of natural gas from oil and gas (O&G) operations has slowed in recent years. That is expected to change in the future.
Existing Federal and State air quality rules are currently in place and actively being enforced by State environmental agencies. New and existing O&G facilities must be designed and operated to comply with air quality rules that limit fugitive equipment leaks and venting of natural gas.
Federal rules in NSPS OOOO/OOOOa require O&G facilities to reduce natural gas releases by limiting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and methane emissions. O&G facilities that were existing prior to the applicability dates of the NSPS OOOO/OOOOa rules are grandfathered in and have fewer emission control requirements. These facilities can be opportunities to use voluntary options to reduce venting VOC and methane emissions. Also, many companies have greenhouse gas emission reduction goals that are used to voluntarily reduce methane emissions from their operations.
Even though the trend towards more regulations has slowed on a federal level, States can implement rules that are more stringent than the federal rules.
The focus of the voluntary programs is methane and VOC emissions.
Successful voluntary programs to reduce air emissions can be used to demonstrate that new mandatory, command and control regulations are not warranted.
Releases of methane and VOCs from natural gas venting can result from the following:
- Oil and produced water storage tanks
- Equipment leaks (valves, connections, flanges, seals, hatches, etc.)
- Glycol dehydration unit still column vents and flash tanks
- Facility depressuring (blowdown)
There are several voluntary programs to help the O&G industry reduce fugitive and venting emissions from O&G facilities. These include:
- The Environmental Partnership https://theenvironmentalpartnership.org/
- ONE Future Coalition to reduce methane emissions from natural gas value chain. https://onefuture.us/
- EPA’s Voluntary Methane Programs for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry https://www.epa.gov/natural-gas-star-program
The Environmental Partnership
The Environmental Partnership includes U.S. O&G gas companies that are committed to improving the industry’s environmental performance. Participants include small and large independents and major O&G operators. The group offers a way for participants to learn about the latest industry innovations and best practices that can further reduce environmental impacts. Periodic workshops are held to allow for sharing information and best practices.
Some of the ways The Environmental Partnership is taking action include:
- Pneumatic Controller Program to replace, remove or retrofit high-bleed pneumatic controllers.
- Manual Liquids Unloading Program for manual liquids unloading for gas production sources.
- Leak Detection/ Repair Program for Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) for O&G production facilities.
- Compressor Program
- Flare Management Program
Those wanting information on joining or partnering with The Environmental Partnership can contact them via their website.
ONE Future Coalition
ONE Future is a coalition of companies working to voluntarily reduce methane emissions across the natural gas supply chain. They are focused on policy and technical solutions that can reduce methane emissions from the production, processing, transmission, and distribution of natural gas.
The coalition’s goal is to attain an average rate of methane emissions across the entire natural gas value chain that is one percent (1%) or less of total (gross) natural gas production and delivery by 2025. They do not have a volume/mass reduction goal or emission limit on companies or facilities.
Using uniform, EPA-approved reporting protocols, the coalition registered a 2019 methane intensity number of 0.334%, beating its one percent goal by 67%. Although we have surpassed our original goal, member companies will continue to work towards reducing emissions to improve the quality of life for all, and for a sustainable energy future.
ONE Future actively commissions independent technical studies that determine specific emission reduction targets for each segment. Each industry segment’s reduction sub-target is proportional to their share of current emissions that can be reduced economically. Participating companies take actions to ensure that their emissions are reduced to or below their segment’s sub-target.
Their website’s “Resources” section includes protocols and guidance that can be used to estimate, reduce and report methane emissions.
Those wanting information on membership with ONE Future Coalition can contact them via their website.
EPA’s Voluntary Methane Programs for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry
Two of EPA’s voluntary methane reduction programs of the O&G industry include:
- Methane Challenge Program
- Natural Gas STAR Program
The Methane Challenge Program
Methane Challenge Program partners report actions taken to reduce methane emissions from their operations. The program partners are expected to implement methane emission reductions as part of a formal commitment. The two commitment options that partners may make are listed below.
- Best Management Practice Commitment offering the following options:
- Focus on one or more emission source types.
- Select from Best Management Practices (BMP) mitigation options associated with each emission source type.
- Company-wide employment of best practices within 5 years of start date and a timeframe for implementation.
- ONE Future Emissions Intensity Commitment
Natural Gas STAR Program
The Natural Gas STAR Program provides a framework for U.S. O&G operators to use methane reducing technologies and practices and document their voluntary emission reduction activities. The program is less formal than the Methane Challenge Program. By joining the Program, Partners commit to:
- Evaluate their methane emission reduction opportunities.
- Implement methane reduction projects where feasible.
- Annually report methane emission reduction actions to the EPA.
The websites for the Methane Challenge Program and Natural Gas STAR Program include an abundance of resources on methane emission reduction technologies and best practices.
Benefits of both these EPA programs include:
- Information sharing and technology transfer resources and meetings
- Peer networking
- Voluntary record and reporting of reductions
- Public recognition
As a resource for the public and industry, the EPA uses its Facility Level Information on Greenhouse Gases Tool (FLIGHT). FLIGHT is an online system that includes greenhouse gas emissions from O&G facilities that were required to report under rules in 40 CFR 98.
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