EPA Releases Improved Safeguards to Ensure Oil and Gas Operators Monitor and Stop Climate-Warming Methane Leaks

Supplemental Rule Includes Smaller Operators in Monitoring in a Win for Communities and Climate

WASHINGTON, DC- Today, in advance of President Biden on the world stage at the COP27 Climate Conference, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a supplemental rule proposal that would establish strong, commonsense protections against methane and other harmful pollution from the oil and gas industry. This proposal improves upon a draft rule that EPA issued last November to curb methane from the oil and gas sector. A strong methane rule will help the United States meet its more ambitious emissions reduction commitments expected to be unveiled at COP27, and will go a long way in protecting the air quality of communities surrounding oil and gas operators who are forced to bear the burden of fossil fuel pollution on a day-to-day basis.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that has more than 80 times the power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, driving approximately one quarter of the warming our planet has experienced to date. Each year, the U.S. oil and gas sector emits 16 million metric tons of methane into our atmosphere. Additionally, methane is emitted from oil and gas sources alongside other damaging pollutants, such as smog- and soot-forming volatile organic compounds and carcinogens like benzene and formaldehyde.  

In response to the announcement, Sierra Club Senior Director of Energy Campaigns Kelly Sheehan said, “For decades, operators of existing oil and gas equipment have been allowed to spew vast amounts of methane and pollutants without regard for the consequences for our climate or public health. Now, the EPA is finally establishing safeguards against methane pollution from existing oil and gas infrastructure, while at the same time strengthening Obama-era standards for new equipment. These safeguards will curb the harmful impacts of air pollution emitted by this industry, which disproportionately affect vulnerable and frontline communities.” 

If finalized, the rule framework will achieve 87% methane reductions from covered sources compared to 2005 levels. This updated standard will strengthen leak detection and repair requirements, including those for those small wells; maintain zero-emitting equipment requirements for pneumatic controllers and extending them to pneumatic pumps; allow third-parties to perform their own monitoring and emissions tracking; and establish requirements for abandoned wells. 

Sheehan continued, “EPA’s proposal is strong, but the agency must go further and clearly prohibit the practice of routine flaring of gas at well sites in its final rule. Our work to slash methane and other pollution from oil and gas equipment is not done, but we are one step closer to environmental justice, slowing the rate of climate change and keeping everyone's air clean and safe to breathe.”

The supplemental rule follows on the heels of several other recent federal efforts to curb methane emissions, a necessary step to combat the worst effects of climate change and meet global commitments. In July of last year, President Biden signed legislation reinstating  Obama-era limits on methane pollution from new oil and gas equipment, which the Trump administration had repealed at the behest of fossil fuel industry lobbyists. And in August, the Inflation Reduction Act established a Methane Emissions Reduction Program. This program offers companies both a carrot and a stick to better monitor, stop, and clean up dangerous oil and gas pollution and will help communities reduce the health effects of pollution and increase their climate resilience. 

As the supplemental rule enters a public comment period, Sierra Club will continue to push for critical improvements resulting in a final rule that is as protective as possible, one that retains the strengths of the proposal while also clearly barring the damaging practice of routine flaring at wellsites.

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.