EPA undertakes overdue review on oil, gas rules

Catherine Tsai
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – The Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing four air emission rules for oil and natural gas operations, albeit many years later than it should have done so.

The EPA is supposed to review the standards every eight years under the Clean Air Act, but some of the regulations in question haven’t been updated since 1985, while others were last fully reviewed in 1999.

WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance noticed and sued the EPA to force a review.

“That’s kind of a slam dunk. It’s hard to win a case like that,” said Bruce Moore, senior technical adviser with the EPA’s Office of Air Quality, Planning and Standards.

The EPA reached a settlement in which it agreed to propose any changes by Jan. 31 and take final action by Nov. 30, 2011.

The agency is going a step further, though. It also will take a broad look at the oil and gas industry to identify and quantify sources of air pollutants, consider strategies for reducing them, and determine the environmental and economic effects of those strategies.

The EPA held public meetings in Arlington, Texas, on Monday and in Denver on Tuesday to get information from the public and industry representatives to help with its review.

Two regulations the EPA is reviewing cover new gas processing plants. One involves leak detection of volatile organic compounds, and the other involves sulfur dioxide emissions.

The EPA also is reviewing national emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants in oil and gas production, and in natural gas transmission and storage operations.

Regulators have lagged in updating rules, even as new strategies like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have boosted the amount of natural gas that is considered recoverable.

Elevated ozone levels in the winter in the West have been attributed to volatile organic compounds from the oil and gas industry, Moore said.

While the EPA has rules for some aspects of oil and gas operations, other areas are not covered by current regulations.

Kathleen Sgamma of Western Energy Alliance, a trade group, said at the EPA meeting Tuesday that onerous regulations would make it more difficult to produce energy domestically and lead to more importation. She noted other sources of air pollution and said regulators should focus on industries with higher emissions.

Environmental groups noted that industry has undertaken some voluntary measures to mitigate pollution but said those efforts were insufficient. They also said natural gas is cleaner than coal but that they want to ensure industry makes use of modern technology to reduce emissions.