U.S. Environmental Chief Warns Rules Will Challenge Oil, Gas

Updated on
  • Methane emissions from oil, gas higher than previously thought
  • EPA's McCarthy defends Obama Administration's Clean Power Plan

Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy vowed to do more to regulate the methane leaking from oil and natural gas operations and defended the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, saying a court stay won’t stop the agency from fighting pollution.

McCarthy told a crowd attending the IHS CERAWeek energy conference in Houston on Wednesday that the methane regulations her agency is developing “really are going to be challenging” for the energy sector. The department issued a report this week showing the industry’s emissions are “substantially” higher than it previously thought. She said the agency will work with states including Virginia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Delaware to curb power-plant pollution despite a Supreme Court decision to put on hold the Clean Power Plan.

"My head hit the table" when news of the Clean Power Plan court decision broke, McCarthy said. “But I was back working within 10 minutes.”

The Feb. 9 Supreme Court stay froze in its tracks a policy at the center of Obama’s environmental legacy that would require states to use less coal and employ more wind, solar and natural gas-fired power to achieve carbon emissions cuts of 32 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. The power plan and methane rules are both part of a slew of regulations that the Environmental Protection Agency has brought forth in recent years in its effort to regulate pollution from the energy sector.

McCarthy said the window for compliance under the Clean Power Plan had been “extended” so that the agency wouldn’t lose time in implementing it.

Provide Certainty

"The Clean Power Plan was an effort to look at where the transition in the energy sector was heading," McCarthy said. "Part of it is to provide the certainty for investment in innovation moving forward and for the utility industry itself to know the EPA is moving in a direction the energy world is already headed."

The agency has said it’ll issue final regulations on methane by late spring or early summer. The rules come on the heels of a massive natural gas leak at Sempra Energy’s storage well at Aliso Canyon, near a Los Angeles suburb. The leak, which had been spewing for weeks, touched off a tirade from federal lawmakers, state agencies and local officials who’ve opened investigations and threatened fines.

"There are sources of significant methane emissions that we simply have not had on our radar screen," she said. "And there are emissions from storage tanks and other things that are at much higher levels and many more storage tanks than we ever anticipated."