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New methane standards a step in the right direction for BC

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 1/18/2019 3:20:00 PM

Long-sought limits on methane emissions from British Columbia’s (B.C.’s) oil and gas sector will be phased in beginning January 1, 2020. That’s welcome, Maximilian Kniewasser, director of the B.C. Clean Economy Program at the Pembina Institute, tells EcoLog News, but it still falls short of best practices adopted elsewhere. Conceivably, the new requirements may even fall short of what’s needed to strike an equivalency agreement with the federal government, something B.C. is eager to do.

The new requirements, found in (not-yet-in-effect) amendments to the province’s Drilling and Production Regulation (B.C. Reg. 282/2010), will ensure that new equipment performs to a very high standard, says Kniewasser. Pneumatic controllers and pumps, for instance, must have zero emissions. (The amendments take effect January 1, 2020.)

But the amended regulation will fall short when it comes to monitoring, says Kniewasser. Monitoring is important, he says, because even though we know that methane emissions are a problem, “we don’t know how big it is because the data isn’t there.” Unintended emissions, such as leaks from faulty equipment, are still not measured. “The way to catch those leaks is to have a really robust monitoring and upkeep protocol in place,” he says.

In a release, Kniewasser said that “[f]requent leak detection and repair inspection (three times per year) will only be required at seven per cent of oil and gas facilities in B.C., compared to almost half under federal regulations”. The amended regulation will require operators to stop the leaks once they are detected, but a one-year gap between inspections is a long time, Kniewasser tells EcoLog News.

A lot of emissions come from what Kniewasser calls “super emitters” — a small number of large leaks. In those instances, a lot of methane can be lost over the course of a year.

The irony, says Kniewasser, is that reducing methane is a very cost-effective means of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, much cheaper than a carbon tax, for instance. However, right now methane emissions are free. Vented methane is not burned, so it is not taxed. The only cost is the lost revenue it represents.

B.C. hopes its new limits on methane emissions will be judged by the federal government to be equivalent to the (not-yet-in-effect) federal Reduction in the Release of Methane and Certain Volatile Organic Compounds (Upstream Oil and Gas Sector) Regulations (SOR/2018-66). If Ottawa agrees, it would yield jurisdiction to B.C. If it does not, the federal regulation SOR/2018-66 (which takes effect January 1, 2020 and January 1, 2023) will apply.

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