White House Unveils Plan to Curb Methane Emissions

Last week, the White House announced its new plan to cut methane emissions, the tenants of which could have far reaching implications for the oil and gas industry.  Titled the “Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions,” the plan outlines a coordinated interagency response to methane reduction that targets a broad swath of industries, including waste disposal, coal mining, and agriculture.

EPA and Army Corps Propose to Clear the Mud Stirred Up by Rapanos

EPA and Army Corps Propose to Clear the Mud Stirred Up by Rapanos

In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court created great confusion in Rapanos v. United States over what wetlands fell within the coverage of the Clean Water Act (CWA) by setting out two separate tests for jurisdiction, one in the four-justice plurality opinion led by Justice Scalia, and one in a separate concurrence by Justice Kennedy.

White House Announces Methane Reduction Strategy

March 28, 2014 the White House announced its Methane Reduction Strategy
(“MRS”) containing the broad outlines of a multi-agency strategy to reduce methane emissions
from four major sources: the oil and gas industry, cattle and dairy farming, coal mining, and
landfills. The MRS is part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, first announced by the
White House in June 2013, and will utilize voluntary incentive-based programs as well as new
regulatory measures under the executive branch’s existing regulatory authority. In addition, the
MRS outlines plans to improve the quality of methane emission measurement and steps to reduce
international methane emissions.
 The core of the MRS is the announcement of a series of voluntary and regulatory
measures intended to reduce methane emissions from the four major sources of methane
emissions:
• Oil and Gas: The MRS detailed three steps to reduce methane emissions from
the oil and gas industry: 1.) EPA will issue a series of technical white papers
in 2014 to solicit input from technical experts to assess “several potentially
significant sources of methane emissions” and determine whether to pursue
further methane emission reductions from those sources; 2.) BLM will propose
updated venting and flaring standards for oil and gas operations on public lands;
and 3.) the Administration will work to identify additional “downstream” methane
reduction opportunities.
• Coal Mining: The Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) will issue an
Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit input on the development of
a program for the capture and sale, or disposal, of waste methane emitted from
coal mines on Federal lands.
• Landfills: EPA will propose more stringent methane emission standards for new
landfills sometime in the summer of 2014. At the same time, EPA will solicit
public comments on whether to update standards for existing landfills. EPA will
also seek further emission reductions through the Landfill Methane Outreach
Program, a voluntary program intended to partner with industry and state and
local officials.
• Agriculture: In consultation with the dairy industry, the Department of
Agriculture, EPA and the Department of Energy will issue a “Biogas Roadmap”
outlining voluntary strategies to hasten the adoption of methane digesters and
other technologies to reduce GHG emissions from the dairy industry by 25
percent by 2020.
The MRS also included an outline of a plan to improve the ability to measure methane
emissions across diverse sources and economic sectors. Specifically, the MRS calls for the
development of new and improved measurement technologies, additional data collection and
analysis for areas with high uncertainty, and enhancement of top-down modeling and monitoring
based on direct measurement of atmospheric concentrations.
Finally, the MRS sets out the Administration’s plans to reduce international methane
emissions through two primary actions. First, the Administration will push for initiatives under
the auspices of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (“CCAC”) to reduce landfilling in Africa,
Asia and Latin America, reduce methane emissions from agriculture and livestock operations
through best practices and improved policies and technologies, and help to launch the CCAC
Oil and Gas Methane Partnership in 2014. Second, the Administration will work to leverage the
U.S.’s technical expertise to reduce methane emissions through the Global Methane Initiative
(“GMI”), a public-private initiative involving 43 partner countries, private industry, and
multilateral organizations such as the World Bank. The GMI will focus on reductions in five
key sectors: agriculture, coal mining, municipal solid waste, oil and gas systems, and municipal
wastewater.
Reactions to the MRS were mixed. A spokesperson for the American Petroleum Institute
questioned the need for new regulation of fuel extraction, noting that the regulations could a
“chilling effect” and that there “built-in incentive to capture [methane] emissions” due to the
potential resale profit. Environmental groups were generally supportive. The President of the
Environmental Defense Fund hailed the President’s strategy as “smart roadmap for taking on the
biggest sources of [methane] emissions.” However, the Sierra Club emphasized that the MRS
does not reduce methane emissions enough to stave off the negative impacts of climate change.

On March 28, 2014 the White House announced its Methane Reduction Strategy (“MRS”) containing the broad outlines of a multi-agency strategy to reduce methane emissions from four major sources: the oil and gas industry, cattle and dairy farming, coal mining, and landfills.