Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Industry & Enviros At Odds Over Advancement Of Oil & Gas Regs

Sep 27: U.S. EPA is conducting three public hearings on its proposed national air emission standards for oil and natural gas operations to strengthen protections for public health and the environment. The hearings are being held in Pittsburgh, PA beginning today, tomorrow in Denver, CO, and on Thursday in Arlington, TX. The EPA is accepting public comments on the regulations through October 24 and is required to issue final rules by February 28, 2012. The proposal includes four air regulations 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.
    The American Petroleum Institute (API) asked the Agency for additional time to make comments on the proposed rules. API also asked EPA to delay its proposed rule for refinery emissions to allow adequate time for EPA to review emissions data submitted by industrial facilities this month. Howard Feldman, API director of regulatory and scientific affairs said, "We do not oppose rules to help manage upstream emissions, but we are concerned that, unless properly crafted, they could hamper our ability to meet the nation's energy needs. As EPA's proposal stands today, we have questions about whether we're going to get workable, practical rules that do not obstruct development."

    Feldman said that preparing thorough and meaningful comments on all five of EPAs proposals within 60 days is not reasonable or practicable and asked the agency to allow an additional 60 days for public comment. Khary Cauthen, API director of Federal relations said, "The administration was also right to delay the utility emissions rule . . . it would also be a good idea for EPA to delay the proposed refinery emissions rule. The refinery rule is currently scheduled to be proposed just over one month after EPA finishes collecting emissions data from oil and natural gas companies, but more time is needed to review this information." Feldman and Cauthen held a conference call with reporters ahead of EPA's public hearing.

    The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said EPA's proposed rule for new national clean air standards for oil and natural gas will reduce harmful air pollution, protect public health and the environment, and prevent the waste of a valuable domestic energy source. EDF said the updated standards are "a critical first step but key areas can be improved" and provided a review and areas for improvement in a preliminary analysis of the regulations. EDF senior scientist Ramon Alvarez, "Updated standards will reduce harmful air pollution through highly cost-effective controls and avoid the needless waste of a valuable domestic energy source: natural gas. They will also standardize many common sense practices and technologies that natural gas companies already use successfully benefit from financially."

    In a release, EDF said, "Oil and natural gas exploration and production are rapidly increasing in urban and rural areas of the country due to technological developments such as 'fracking' that have made extraction of previously untapped unconventional resources feasible. Yet, the clean air standards covering these activities have not been updated since 1985 in one case and 1999 in another. Having inadequate, outdated national standards threatens families and communities who must breathe hazardous air pollutants and airborne contaminants known to seriously impact human health.

    Alvarez said, "The good news is that there are existing, cost-effective solutions at hand. EPA's proposal builds from regulations in place in states such as Colorado and Wyoming. EPA actually worked with oil and gas companies to identify more than 100 technologies and best management practices to recover more product and reduce emissions from upstream activities." Many of these solutions form the basis for EPA's proposed rules.

    EDF indicated that, "Smart standards would ensure that our domestic resources are being used wisely, avoiding the waste of a valuable energy source. Companies that recover more gas get more product they can sell that's worth millions of dollars. The EPA has estimated that the natural gas industry lost more than $1 billion in profits in 2009, due to venting, flaring and so-called 'fugitive emissions' of pollutants released into air from leaks in pressurized equipment, such as well heads, tanks, pipe lines, compressor engine seals, and valves. The return on the initial investment for many of these practices can be a few months to almost always less than two years."

    EDF indicated, "The rules go a long way toward maximizing the multiple benefits that come from using readily available technologies and practices. Yet there is still room for improvement as EDF's analysis points out. The proposal fails to reduce emissions from many existing sources, which means that they will continue to contribute to unhealthy levels of air pollution for years to come. EPA's proposal also declines to reduce methane emissions directly. While reductions in this potent greenhouse gas will occur as a co-benefit of compliance with many of the proposed requirements, additional opportunities to prevent waste of natural gas, primarily comprised of methane, were not included."

    Access complete information on the proposed rules (click here). Access the EPA docket for additional background and to review and submit comments (click here). Access a release from API with links to the testimony and statements from the conference call (click here). Access a release from EDF and link to their preliminary analysis of the regulations (click here). [#Air]

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