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EPA Slated to Protect Clean Air Nationwide from Oil and Gas Drilling

July 27, 2011
Jeremy Nichols (303) 573-4898 x 1303
In This Release
Climate + Energy  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011
EPA Slated to Protect Clean Air Nationwide from Oil and Gas Drilling

Agency to Sign Proposed Rules Pursuant to 2010 Settlement Agreement
Contact: Jeremy Nichols (303) 573-4898 x 1303

Additional Contacts:

Mike Eisenfeld, San Juan Citizens Alliance New Mexico EnergyCoordinator, (505) 325-6724

Michael Freeman, Earthjustice, (720) 989-6896

Denver—Publichealth nationwide stands to get a major boost this week as the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency is slated to propose by tomorrow, July 28th,comprehensive updates to federal limits on air pollution from oil and gasdrilling.

The expected proposal promises to target toxic airpollution, ensure cost-effective clean air technologies are used throughout theoil and gas industry, and strengthen acritical safety net for public health. The proposal was spurred by a settlement agreement reached with WildEarthGuardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance, in a lawsuit where they wererepresented by the public interest law firm Earthjustice. The settlement requires the EPA to followthrough with its duties under the Clean Air Act to keep air quality regulationsup-to-date.

It is expected thatcomprehensive updates to current clean air rules will be proposed. Current regulations are woefullyoutdated, with some not updated since 1985, and fail to adequately protectpublic health and welfare. In a2010 presentation,the EPA pointed to a number of reasons to strengthen the current rules,including:

  • Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturinghave enabled extraction of shale gas.
  • Gas reserves have gone from under 50 years toover 100 years.
  • The recent gas boom has heightened publicconcern over air impacts.
  • Winter ozone exceedances in western states havebeen linked to oil and gas drilling.
  • The oil and natural gas sector accounts for 23%of U.S. methane emissions.
  • Certain emissions are not addressed by existingfederal air rules.

The EPA noted that of the 24 significant emission sources associatedwith oil and gas production, only six are covered by the current rules.

It is expectedthat the proposed rules will focus on volatile organic compound, or VOC,emissions, a toxic group of compounds that form smog and prioritize mobilizingthe most cost-effective emission controls. In many cases, compliance will actually save industry money because reducing VOC emissions bystopping leaks and other fugitive emissions will result in recovering morenatural gas and oil.

The proposal comes as oil and gas drilling is in many casestaking a tremendous toll on air quality. A recent New York Times video highlights these impacts.

In westernColorado’s Garfield County for example, oil and gas drilling has increased bymore than 132 percent since 2004, brining more than 7,000 new wells to theregion. According to the state of Colorado emission inventory data, oil and gasoperations in the County are responsible for more than 67% percent of allbenzene emissions—a known carcinogen. Studies by the state show that Garfield County residents face higherhealth risks because of this, in some cases facing an “unacceptable” cancerrisk. Unfortunately, current federal regulations fail to limit benzene andother toxic emissions from oil and gas operations in order to protect publichealth.

Nationwide, the proposal will be the first steptoward protecting communities in a number of states with oil and gas drillingoperations,including California, New York, Pennsylvania, Alaska, and Texas. Because state air quality regulationsmust at least be as stringent as federal regulations, the final rules willultimately provide a critical important safety net for public health.

Background Details

  • In response to a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians and the San JuanCitizens Alliance—two American West-based environmental organizations, the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency committed to reviewing and updating Clean Airact regulations for the oil and natural gas production sector by July 28, 2011 andto finalize these updates by January 28, 2012.
  • The first set of regulations are called “New Source PerformanceStandards,” and ensure that the latest technology is used to reduce anypollutants that endanger public health and welfare, such as hydrogen sulfide,smog forming nitrogen oxide gases, and greenhouse gases like methane. Under Section111 of the Clean Air Act, New Source Performance Standards must be reviewed andupdated every eight years. Standards related to the oil and gas industry werefirst promulgated in 1985 and only applied to natural gas processingplants. They have not been updatedsince.
  • The second regulations are called “Maximum Achievable ControlTechnology” standards, and ensure that the most effective technology availableis used to limit toxic air emissions—such as benzene. Under Section 112 of theClean Air Act, Maximum Achievable Control Technology standards must be reviewedand updated every eight years. Standards related to oil and gas drilling werefirst promulgated in 1999 and have not been updated since.
  • The third regulations are called “Residual Risk” standards, and ensurethat toxic air emissions are reduced to fully safeguard public health. Thesestandards address any “residual risk” to public health that exists afterMaximum Achievable Control Technology standards are adopted. Under Section 112of the Clean Air Act, Residual Risk standards must be issued within eight yearsafter Maximum Achievable Control Technology standards. It has been more then 10years, yet currently there are no residual risk standards in place to protectpublic health.
  • EPA has also indicated it may promulgate “Control Technique Guidelines”for the oil and gas industry. UnderSection 182 of the Clean Air Act, the EPA may develop Control TechniqueGuidelines to provide guidance to states on how to reduce VOCs in order to meetnational ambient air quality standards for ground-level ozone, the keyingredient of smog.

Other Contact
Mike Eisenfeld, San Juan Citizens Alliance New Mexico Energy Coordinator, (505) 325-6724