EPA offers no timetable for methane rule at current drilling sites

EPA offers no timetable for methane rule at current drilling sites
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A top Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official said regulations on methane leaks from new oil and gas well is coming “soon” but sidestepped questions on when a similar rule for existing wells will come out. 

The Obama administration is focused on first collecting data for a potential existing well rule, said Janet McCabe, the head of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. That type of information, she said, will help EPA regulators write a rule to cut down on drilling site emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas rule. 

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But, challenged at a Bloomberg Government event Wednesday whether such a regulation will come before Obama leaves office, McCabe wouldn’t say. 

“We have been moving in a very methodical manner to address pollution in ways that withstood legal challenges and are making a difference on the ground, and that is what we’re doing,” she said. “We’re proceeding step by step by step, using our legal authorities to address these important issues. Every step that we’re taking is focused in that direction.”

Establishing rules on methane is one of the EPA’s top priorities before Obama leaves office next year. Since last summer, the agency has been reviewing a regulation for methane at new oil and gas drilling sites, something McCabe said will be finalized and released publicly “soon," though she offered no other timetable.

Environmental groups have pushed the Obama administration to form a rule cracking down on methane leaks at wells currently operating, something Obama pledged in March to do. 

But EPA officials have hinted that process will take a long time. First, it needs to gather methane information from the drilling sector, but the agency hasn’t done so yet, raising questions about whether there’s enough time to write and propose a rule while Obama is in office. 

But McCabe said Wednesday the agency needs that data before it can move forward with write a rule for existing wells. 

“When you’re regulating existing sources it’s different than new, because these are facilities that are already out there, they have various constraints that new sources don’t have,” she said.

“So there’s a lot of information that we need about the way they can be controlled, how much that would cost, what types of controls would be feasible and cost effective,” she added. Requesting data first “will allow us to gather a lot of that information that we can then use to build an existing source rule."