Normally it is not a good sign when the Inspector General (IG) at a federal agency issues a critical report. However, the report on methane leaks from distribution pipelines issued in late July by the IG at the EPA doesn't appear at first blush, and despite some press reports to the contrary, to have much bite.
The report only covers the distribution sector, which accounts for approximately 10% of all methane emissions from stationary sources in the U.S. Methane itself represents only 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. So the contribution of distribution leaks of methane to the U.S.'s GHG inventory is tiny. The report says nothing about methane leaks from the gas transmission industry.
The report makes five recommendations, which could lead to both EPA and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) regulatory action. That seems unlikely since the IG's main recommendation is an anodyne, one suggesting that the EPA work with the PHMSA to "address" methane emissions. That is not exactly a clarion call.
Although the EPA has embarked on a controversial rulemaking to restrict GHG emissions form utilities using coal as fuel, it has shown no inclination to regulate methane emissions from any pipeline sector. It did issue some white papers in April asking for comments on what the agency might do with regard to methane leaks from five sources: compressors, emissions from hacked wells, leaks, liquids unloading and pneumatic devices. The agency was responding in part to the release on March 28 of the Obama administration's Climate Action Plan: a Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions.
The EPA says it will use the white papers to decide on any regulatory action.
It is hard to believe that either the EPA or PHMSA would countenance any kind of additional regulatory restrictions on distribution...