Updated rules target greenhouse gases, toxic emissions and smog-forming VOCs
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — A proposed new set of EPA air quality regulations would dramatically reduce impacts from energy development by requiring the capture of 95 percent of harmful smog-forming emissions from oil and gas drilling operations.
The proposal includes the review of four rules for the oil and natural gas industry: a new source performance standard for VOCs; a new source performance standard for sulfur dioxide; an air toxics standard for oil and natural gas production; and an air toxics standard for natural gas transmission and storage.
According to the EPA, the new rules are based on proven technologies that are already in use today. The agency says the reductions can be achieved by capturing natural gas that currently escapes into the air, and making that gas available for sale. The rules also would reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and air toxics, which are known or suspected of causing cancer and other serious health effects.
All the EPA information on the new rules is online here.
Environmental groups unanimously applauded the proposed regulations and challenged the EPA to go even farther.
“This is a big step forward in keeping air pollution from oil and gas drilling under control,” said Michael Freeman, staff attorney with public interest environmental law firm Earthjustice. “Based on the information we have it appears that EPA could go further than the proposed rule would. We think the agency should do so. Nevertheless this is an important first step.”
“EPA’s proposed clean air protections are a trifecta: they reduce harmful air pollution, prevent waste of a domestic energy source, and payback the companies by preventing leaks and venting of natural gas, a valuable commodity,” said Ramon Alvarez, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund.
Industry groups reacted cautiously to the proposal.
“Over the last few years, our industry has invested over 40 million dollars in improving air emissions technology at oil and gas operations across Colorado,” said Doug Flanders, director of policy and public affairs for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “We will be reviewing the EPA proposal in the coming weeks and will provide comments to the EPA.”
An economic analysis by the EPA suggests that compliance with the rules will save industry $29 million in increased natural gas sales within a few months to a year after compliance. Although the rules do not directly regulate methane, they will indirectly reduce methane by approximately 3.4 million tons, a reduction of 26 percent. The rules also reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds by 25 percent (540,000 tons) and air toxics by 30 percent (38,000 tons).
The EPA proposal was spurred in part by a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance. In response, the agency committed to reviewing and updating Clean Air act regulations for the oil and natural gas production sector by July 28, 2011 and to finalize these updates by February 28, 2012.
The EPA’s proposed rule today updates four regulations. The first set is the “New Source Performance Standards,” which ensure that the latest technology is used to reduce any pollutants that endanger public health and welfare. Two standards related to the oil and gas industry were first promulgated in 1985 and only applied to natural gas processing plants. Today’s proposal updates the standard that reduces VOC emissions by adding requirements to control emissions from new and modified fracked and re-fracked wells, pneumatic controllers, condensate and crude oil storage tanks, compressors and leaks from equipment located at natural gas processing plants. EPA is also strengthening the standard that applies to sulfur dioxide emissions at natural gas processing plants.
· The second set of regulations are called “Maximum Achievable Control Technology” (“MACT”) standards, which ensure that the most effective technology available is used to limit toxic air emissions, such as benzene. EPA’s proposal updates MACT standards that apply to sources in the Oil and Natural Gas Production source category as well as the Natural Gas Transmission and Storage category. Both MACT standards were first promulgated in 1999 and have not been updated since.
· For sources in the Oil and Natural Gas Production source category, today’s proposal strengthens the MACT standard that applies to glycol dehydrators, condensate and crude oil tanks and leaks from valves located at natural gas processing plants. Specifically, the proposal requires that large glycol dehydrators must reduce air toxics by 95 percent and establishes emission limits for small glycol dehydrators located at major sources. Storage tanks must also reduce emissions by at least 95 percent. EPA proposed these new MACT standards after conducting a required residual risk review that indicated that toxic air emissions from sources subject to the current MACT standard posed an unacceptable cancer risk.