The Associated Press | 24 April 2017

EPA Chief Delays Methane Rule at Behest of Oil and Gas Firms

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is again moving to derail Obama-era regulations aimed at reducing pollution from the fossil fuel industry.

Environmental Protection Agency headquarters building in Washington, D.C. Credit: Getty Images.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced on 19 April that he’s issued a 90-day delay for oil and gas companies to follow a new rule requiring them to monitor and reduce methane leaks from their facilities. Pruitt said the agency will now reconsider the 2016 measure, which the companies were required to comply with by June.

It was the latest in a slew of actions by Pruitt to set aside environmental regulations opposed by corporate interests. The American Petroleum Institute, the Texas Oil and Gas Association, and other industry groups petitioned Pruitt to scrap the requirement.

“American businesses should have the opportunity to review new requirements, assess economic impacts, and report back before those new requirements are finalized,” Pruitt said in a statement.

Read the full story here.

Reuters | 19 April 2017

Trump’s EPA To Reconsider Oil and Gas Emissions Rule

The US Environmental Protection Agency will reconsider a rule on greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas operations and delay its compliance date, the agency said on 19 April in the Trump administration’s latest move to reduce regulations.

US President Donald Trump speaks between Vice President Mike Pence, left, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt before signing an executive order on ”Energy Independence,” eliminating Obama-era climate change regulations. Credit: Carlos Barria/Reuters.

Oil interest groups, including the American Petroleum Institute and the Texas Oil and Gas Association, had petitioned the EPA a year ago to reconsider the rule limiting emissions of methane and other pollutants from new and revamped oil and gas wells and systems.

The EPA said in a statement that it would delay the rule’s 3 June compliance date by 90 days and take public comments during that period.

Under Democratic President Barack Obama, the EPA released the first methane limits on the facilities in May 2016, saying it would cost energy companies USD 530 million but would lead to USD 690 million in benefits, including lowering medical bills.

Scott Pruitt, the EPA chief in the administration of Republican President Donald Trump, joined dozens of other states in challenging the rule when he was attorney general of oil-producing Oklahoma. Pruitt has said he does not believe that greenhouse gas emissions are the main driver of climate change.

Read the full story here.

Houston Chronicle | 17 April 2017

Do Oil Companies Want Looser Regulations? Some Don’t

On the morning of 28 March, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that gutted the US Clean Power Plan, eliminating restrictions on fossil fuel production and promising to reinvigorate the energy industry.

Wind turbines. Credit: Rafa Irusta Machin.

That very morning, on a lush oil business campus along the Energy Corridor in Houston, several dozen oil and gas leaders met in private to discuss quite the opposite: how they could help their companies and the industry create a lower-carbon “cleaner energy” future, despite the rhetoric of the new administration.

Multinational oil giant Royal Dutch Shell called the meeting. Several large oil and gas companies sent representatives, including Anadarko Petroleum and Apache, both based in the Houston area, and the Swiss oil services technology provider ABB. Shell called it an “exclusive, invitation-only event.”

The goal: First, to build the “economic and environmental case for natural gas as the essential pathway to lower carbon energy systems,” according to the meeting’s agenda. Second, to raise a coalition of companies able to develop, advocate and implement the strategy.

There are two camps emerging in the energy industry, attendees said. One is giddy with each cut to environmental regulation, hopeful that Trump will usher in a low-regulation era for fossil fuels. But the second camp worries about that philosophy, believing instead that world is already walking a path to a low-carbon future; electric cars, solar panels, and windmills will keep coming, despite any change in US regulations.

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The Associated Press | 7 April 2017

Maryland Governor Signs Hydraulic Fracturing Ban Into Law

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a bill on 4 April to ban hydraulic fracturing in Maryland, the first state where a legislature has voted to bar the practice that actually has natural gas reserves.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, shakes hands with Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo on April 4 in Annapolis, Maryland, after signing a bill to ban hydraulic drilling in the state. Fraser-Hidalgo, a Democrat, sponsored the bill. Credit: Brian Witte/AP.

The Republican governor signed the measure into law about a week after the bill was passed by the Democrat-controlled legislature. Hydraulic fracturing isn’t being conducted in Maryland now, but a moratorium was set to end in October, which is when the ban technically takes effect.

Supporters of the ban said it was the first in the nation approved by a legislature in a state that has natural gas underground. Neighboring West Virginia and Pennsylvania allow hydraulic fracturing.

New York has banned it by executive order, and Vermont’s legislature has passed a ban in a symbolic gesture, because the state doesn’t have any oil or natural gas reserves to drill for.

Hydraulic fracturing opponents cited health and environmental concerns. The technique forces pressurized water and chemicals underground to break up rock and release the gas. Critics say the process and disposal of tainted waste water pose risks of air pollution, earthquakes, and property devaluation.

Read the full story here.

Reuters | 24 March 2017

California Board Adopts Strictest US Methane Rules

California’s air quality board voted unanimously on 23 March to approve methane regulations touted as the strictest adopted yet in the United States for controlling emissions of the second-most prevalent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

The rules, approved by the California Air Resources Board, tighten efficiency requirements for production and transportation of natural gas and for some oil-handling equipment, including installation of emissions-recapture technology.

They also mandate more stringent monitoring and reporting of potential gas leaks as a means of pinpointing and repairing them quickly.

Methane, the main component of commercially distributed natural gas, is also a byproduct of oil extraction. Pound for pound, it traps significantly more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, though its effects are shorter-lived.

Read the full story here.

Scientific American | 16 March 2017

EPA Drops Request for Methane Information From Oil and Gas Industry

US EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has swiftly complied with a request from GOP leaders in oil-and-gas-producing states to scrap an Obama-era request for industry information about reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Credit: Doranjclark/Getty Images.

The agency on 2 March withdrew a formal survey of oil and gas companies that required them to provide information about onshore equipment and controls that could reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, including methane. Industry and state officials complained that the information collection request (ICR) was time-consuming and expensive.

“By taking this step, EPA is signaling that we take these concerns seriously and are committed to strengthening our partnership with the states,” Pruitt said in a statement. “Today’s action will reduce burdens on businesses while we take a closer look at the need for additional information from this industry.”

Eleven Republican state leaders, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, sent a letter on 1 March urging Pruitt to toss the information request.

Industry groups were “overjoyed” at the news, calling the ICR an eleventh-hour attempt by the Obama administration to gather excessive data.

“We’re overjoyed,” Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma said in an email. “The ICR was an ill-conceived action that was extremely burdensome not just on industry, but EPA career employees were struggling to figure out how to handle reams of meaningless data.”

Read the full story here.

PSA | 16 March 2017

PSA Releases New Version of Barrier Memorandum

Barriers have been part of the Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority’s (PSA) regulations since 2002, but the industry’s implementation of the requirements has taken time.

The PSA has been monitoring the industry’s work on barrier management for a number of years. The barrier memorandum, which explains the regulatory requirements and describes good barrier management, was first published in 2011 and then updated in 2013. The PSA’s barrier memorandum has now been updated. The new version includes a clearer explanation of what barriers are and expounds on the interaction between technical, organizational, and operational barrier elements.

Gerhard Ersdal, an engineer with the PSA, explained the reason for the update. “Audits and investigations have shown that the companies have largely not identified the human contribution to barriers, meaning who does what, with which equipment, in order for a barrier to realize its function. Mainly, they have only defined requirements for the technical barrier elements,” he said. “Audits and investigations have also shown that there is great variation in what is considered a barrier. A couple of years ago, the PSA initiated a project to promote more consistent barrier management, including also the human components.”

Read the full story here.

Morgan Lewis via Mondaq | 16 March 2017

Trump Executive Order Seeks To Limit Scope of Clean Water Act

On 28 February , President Donald Trump issued an executive order asking the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers to repeal or revise a 2015 rule interpreting the term “waters of the United States,” which determines the jurisdictional reach of the Clean Water Act.

The executive order asks agencies to repeal or revise an Obama-era rule defining the scope of the Clean Water Act and recommends adoption of a narrower standard articulated by the late Justice Scalia.

The order recommends that the agencies consider crafting a new definition based on the “continuous surface connection” test adopted by a plurality of the US Supreme Court in Rapanos v. United States, which would result in a significant contraction in the Clean Water Act’s scope from the Obama EPA’s 2015 rule.

The 2015 rule was met with extensive criticism by some stakeholders and gave rise to a flurry of litigation. A new rule issued in response to President Trump’s executive order is likely to do the same—resulting in continued uncertainty as to the proper scope of the Clean Water Act and possibly requiring further review by the Supreme Court to resolve the question.

Reuters | 2 March 2017

Aggressive Cuts to Obama-Era Green Rules To Start Soon: EPA Head

US President Donald Trump’s administration will begin rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations in an “aggressive way” soon, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said on 25 February, adding he understood why some Americans want to see his agency eliminated completely.

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, speaks to employees of the agency in Washington on 21 February. Credit: Reuters/Joshua Roberts.

“I think there are some regulations that in the near-term need to be rolled back in a very aggressive way. And I think maybe next week you may be hearing about some of those,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told the Conservative Political Action summit in Washington DC.

Pruitt added the EPA’s focus on combating climate change under former President Barack Obama had cost jobs and prevented economic growth, leading many Americans to want to see the EPA eliminated completely.

“I think its justified,” he said. “I think people across this country look at the EPA much like they look at the IRS. I hope to be able to change that.”

Read the full story here.

FuelFix | 30 January 2017

House Republicans Ready Bill To Overturn Methane Rule

Congressional Republicans are not wasting any time going after former president Barack Obama’s climate change legacy.

Credit: Matt Houston/AP.

House Republicans are putting the final touches on legislation to overturn an Obama executive order limiting the amount of methane that can be vented and flared from oil and gas drilling sites on federal lands. The bill, along with another piece of legislation overturning an order protecting streams and wildlife around coal mines, is set to be introduced on 30 January.

“These are abusive, last minute regulations that are grossly inconsistent with congressional intent,” Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a conference call on 27 January. “They will impose a real and unnecessary cost on American people and communities.”

A day after a Republican retreat in Philadelphia headlined by President Donald Trump, party leaders are gearing up to roll back federal regulation at large. At a meeting in the White House earlier this week, Trump told business leaders he wants to see federal rules reduced by three quarters.


Read the full story here.

Sun Sentinel | 25 January 2017

Florida Fracturing Ban Becomes Bipartisan Goal for 2017

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers called for a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing on 24 January, adding the heft of members of the Republican majority to what has been a years-long goal of South Florida Democrats.

State Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, filed a bill on 23 January that would ban the practice in Florida, and state Rep. Mike Miller, R-Orlando, is set to file similar legislation in the House.

“This bill is concise and straightforward. It bans fracking of all types in Florida,” Young said at a news conference in Tallahassee.

Young’s bill would ban all sorts of well-stimulation treatments. That includes hydraulic fracturing as well as less-well-known but similar practices such as acid treatments, in which chemicals are sent underground to dissolve rock and allow easier access to oil and natural gas.

In South Florida, Miami-Dade and Broward counties banned fracturing last year, while Palm Beach County came out in support of a statewide ban.

Read the full story here.

The Wall Street Journal | 18 January 2017

Barrasso Declines to Elaborate on GOP Plans for Obama’s Climate Rules

After years of lambasting President Barack Obama’s climate agenda, an effort to repeal his legacy on the matter was not named a top priority for the new Republican chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at the 11 January 2017 hearing considering the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state. Credit: Zuma Press.

Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at the 11 January 2017 hearing considering the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state. Credit: Zuma Press.

“I’ll work with the administration on that,” Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), chairman of the panel, said in response to a reporter’s question on 17 January about whether he will prioritize climate policy on the committee. “We want to make energy as clean as we can as fast as we can in ways that don’t raise the costs.”

Barrasso declined to elaborate more on to what extent, if at all, he will focus on climate change policy in legislation or hearings over the next 2 years. He instead listed other issues, such as repealing a water rule and overhauling endangered species laws, as top priorities.

That reluctance is striking because congressional Republicans have spent a good deal of time since 2010 holding press conferences and hearings criticizing Obama’s climate regulations, in particular an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule cutting carbon emissions from power plants. President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to repeal EPA’s carbon rule, but he hasn’t said how or when.

Since the election, lobbyists working for and against fossil-fuel interests have tried to determine how far Republicans will go to dismantle Obama’s climate rules. GOP leaders could take such steps as prohibiting the EPA from regulating carbon emissions or reviewing a scientific finding the EPA issued in 2009 that legally underpins the outgoing administration’s entire climate agenda.