pollution deterrent

EPA sets out rules for proposed 'methane fee' for waste generated by oil and natural gas companies

A proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule intended to encourage industry to adopt best practices that reduce emissions of methane and thereby avoid paying. Photo via Canva

Oil and natural gas companies for the first time would have to pay a fee for methane emissions that exceed certain levels under a rule proposed Friday by the Biden administration.

The proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule follows through on a directive from Congress included in the 2022 climate law. The new fee is intended to encourage industry to adopt best practices that reduce emissions of methane and thereby avoid paying.

Methane is a climate “super pollutant” that is more potent in the short term than carbon dioxide and is responsible for about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. The oil and natural gas sector is the largest industrial source of methane emissions in the United States, and advocates say reduction of methane emissions is an important way to slow climate change.

Excess methane produced this year would result in a fee of $900 per ton, with fees rising to $1,500 per ton by 2026.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the proposed fee would work in tandem with a final rule on methane emissions EPA announced last month. The fee, formally known as the Methane Emissions Reduction Program, will encourage early deployment of available technologies to reduce methane emissions and other harmful air pollutants before the new standards take effect, he said.

The rule announced in December includes a two-year phase-in period for companies to eliminate routine flaring of natural gas from new oil wells.

“EPA is delivering on a comprehensive strategy to reduce wasteful methane emissions that endanger communities and fuel the climate crisis,” Regan said in a statement. When finalized later this year, the proposed methane fee will set technology standards that will “incentivize industry innovation'' and spur action to reduce pollution, he said.

Leading oil and gas companies already meet or exceed performance levels set by Congress under the climate law, meaning they will not have to pay the proposed fee, Regan and other officials said.

Sen. Tom Carper, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he was pleased the administration was moving forward with the methane fee as directed by Congress.

“We know methane is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in our atmosphere in the short term,'' said Carper, D-Del. He said the program "will incentivize producers to cut wasteful and excessive methane emissions during oil and gas production.”

New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said oil and gas companies have long calculated that it's cheaper to waste methane through flaring and other techniques than to make necessary upgrades to prevent leaks.

“Wasted methane never makes its way to consumers, but they are nevertheless stuck with the bill,” Pallone said. The proposed methane fee “will ensure consumers no longer pay for wasted energy or the harm its emissions can cause.''

Republicans call the methane fee a tax that could raise the price of natural gas. “This proposal means increased costs for employers and higher energy bills for millions of Americans,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia.

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry's largest lobbying group, slammed the proposal Friday and called for Congress to repeal it.

“As the world looks to U.S. energy producers to provide stability in an increasingly unstable world, this punitive tax increase is a serious misstep that undermines America’s energy advantage,'' said Dustin Meyer, API's senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs.

While the group supports “smart” federal methane regulation, the EPA proposal “creates an incoherent, confusing regulatory regime that will only stifle innovation and undermine our ability to meet rising energy demand,'' Meyer said. “We look forward to working with Congress to repeal the IRA’s misguided new tax on American energy.”

Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, called the proposed fee "common sense,'' adding that oil and gas companies should be held accountable for methane pollution, a primary source of global warming.

In a related development, EPA said it is working with industry and others to improve how methane emissions are reported, citing numerous studies showing that and oil and gas companies have significantly underreported their methane emissions to the EPA under the agency's Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.

The climate law, formally known as the Inflation Reduction Act, established a waste-emissions charge for methane from oil and gas facilities that report emissions of more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year to the EPA. The proposal announced Friday sets out details of how the fee will be implemented, including how exemptions will be applied.

The agency said it expects that over time, fewer oil and gas sites will be charged as they reduce their emissions in compliance with the rule.

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A View From HETI

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want. Photo courtesy of Boxes

With the help of a new conversational artificial intelligence platform, a Houston startup is ready to let brands get up close and personal with consumers while minimizing waste.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want.

The Boxes device, about the size of a 40-inch television screen, dispenses products to consumers in a modern and sustainable spin on the old-fashioned large vending machine.

CEO Fernando Machin Gojdycz learned that business from his entrepreneur father, Carlos Daniel Machin, while growing up in Uruguay.

“That’s where my passion comes from — him,” Gojdycz says of his father. In 2016, Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay with some engineer friends

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the University of Uruguay, the company's mission was “to democratize and economize affordable and sustainable shopping,” in part by eliminating wasteful single-use plastic packaging.

“I worked for one year from my bedroom,” he tells InnovationMap.

Fernando Machin Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay before relocating the company to Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Boxes

The device, attached to a wall, offers free samples, or purchased products, in areas of high foot traffic, with a touch-screen interface. Powered by watsonx Assistant, the device asks survey questions of the customer, who can answer or not, on their mobile devices, via a QR code.

In return for completing a survey, customers can get a digital coupon, potentially generating future sales. The software and AI tech tracks sales and consumer preferences, giving valuable real-time market insight.

“This is very powerful,” he says.

Boxes partnered in Uruguay with major consumer brands like Kimberly-Clark, SC Johnson and Unilever, and during COVID, pivoted and offered PPE products. Then, with plans of an expansion into the United States, Boxes in 2021 landed its first U.S. backer, with $120,000 in funding from startup accelerator Techstars.

This led to a partnership with the Minnesota Twins, where Boxes devices at Target Field dispensed brand merchandise like keychains and bottles of field dirt.

Gojdycz says while a company in the Northeast is developing a product similar in size, Boxes is not “targeting traditional spaces.” Its software and integration with AI allows Boxes to seamlessly change the device screen and interface, remotely, as well.

Boxes aims to provide the devices in smaller spaces, like restrooms, where they have a device at the company's headquarters at climate tech incubator Greentown Labs. Boxes also recently added a device at Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters in Spring, as part of HPE’s diversity startup program.

Boxes hopes to launch another sustainable innovation later this year, in universities and supermarkets. The company is also developing a device that would offer refillable detergent and personal cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner with a reusable container.

Since plastic packaging accounts for 40 percent of retail price, consumers would pay far less, making a huge difference, particularly for lower-income families, he says.

“We are working to make things happen, because we have tried to pitch this idea,” he says.

Some supermarket retailers worry they may lose money or market share, and that shoppers may forget to bring the refill bottles with them to the store, for example.

“It’s about..the U.S. customer,” he says, “….but we think that sooner or later, it will come.”

Boxes has gotten funding from the accelerator startup branch of Houston-based software company Softeq, as well as Mission Driven Finance, Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, and Right Side Capital, among others.

“Our primary challenges are scaling effectively with a small, yet compact team and maintaining control over our financial runway,” Gojdycz says.

The company has seven employees, including two on its management team.

Gojdycz says they are actively hiring, particularly in software and hardware engineering, but also in business development.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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