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EPA to Curb Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Drilling Nationwide

July 28, 2011
Jeremy Nichols (303) 573-4898 x 1303
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
Thursday, July 28, 2011
EPA to Curb Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Drilling Nationwide

New Federal Safeguards Clear the Air, Protect Public Health, and Actually Make Industry Money
Contact: Jeremy Nichols (303) 573-4898 x 1303

Additional Contacts:

Lori Sinsley, Environmental Defense Fund, 415.293.6097

Mike Freeman, Earthjustice, 720.989.6896

Jason Pitt, Sierra Club, 202.675.6272

Dan Randolph, San Juan Citizens Alliance, 970.259.383

David Marshall, Senior Counsel, Clean Air Task Force,603.428.8114

Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, Western Environmental Law Center,575.613.4197

Available Online:

Download EPA’s Fact Sheet, a Presentation, and the ProposedRules.

Washington, D.C.—Environmentaland public health groups across the country today are applauding the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to strengthen nationwide air qualitysafeguards for oil and gas development.

“These rules are a win-win solution, they are majormilestone as we work to safeguard our communities from the impacts of uncheckedoil and gas drilling,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy ProgramDirector. “These proposed makeclear: Drilling for oil and gasshould not come at the expense of clean air.”

“EPA’s proposed clean air protections are atrifecta: they reduce harmful air pollution, prevent wasteof a domestic energy source, and payback the companies by preventing leaks andventing of natural gas, a valuable commodity,” said RamonAlvarez, senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund.

“This important announcement addresses a major public healthissue,” said Sierra Club’s Natural Gas Reform Campaign Director DebNardone. “Natural gas drilling hasbeen spewing vast amounts of toxins into our air every day without limits,sickening families and communities. This proposed protection would help reign in life-threatening pollutionfrom gas drilling for the first time and is a significant step forward incleaning up a dirty industry.”

“This is a big step forward in keeping air pollution fromoil and gas drilling under control,” said Michael Freeman, staff attorney withpublic interest environmental law firm Earthjustice. “Based on theinformation we have it appears that EPA could go further than the proposed rulewould. We think the agency should do so. Nevertheless this is an importantfirst step.”

“We applaud the EPA for stepping up and protecting ournation’s air quality. These ruleswill not only stop the loss of a lot of natural gas that is currently lost inthe production and distribution processes, but will greatly reduce the burdenon the communities that supply this fuel for the nation,” adds Dan Randolph,Executive Director for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “We encourage the EPA to continue toupdate the regulations that are necessary to reduce the heavy burden on ourcommunities’ and nation’s air quality from oil and gas production anddistribution. While this is a goodfirst step, a lot more is needed.”

“While we applaud EPA’s proposal as an important step incleaning up air emissions from the oil and gas industry, and we recognize thatthe proposal will reduce methane emissions somewhat as a co-benefit of VOC andtoxics regulation, substantially more methane reductions could be obtained bydirect regulation of methane as a greenhouse gas, and we urge EPA to correct this omission in its final rule,” said David Marshall, Senior Counselfor Clean Air Task Force.

“EPA understands that reducing air pollution from oil andgas not only protects public health, but prevents massive waste, namely ofmethane” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, Director of the Western EnvironmentalLaw Center’s Climate and Energy Program. “This is a smart rule that will helpensure that the production of oil and gas resources is constrained withinnecessary limits as we make our urgent transition to truly clean energy fromthe sun, wind, and water.”

EPA’s proposed air regulations are cost effective and, infact, will spark increased profits while providing substantially moreprotection for clean air public health from coast to coast. The rules were spurred by the Clean AirAct, which requires the EPA to regularly review and update its air qualityregulations in order to keep pace with science and technology. Among the highlights of the proposedrules:

  • The proposed rules would generate a net savingsof $30 million annually due to increased recovery of methane, otherwise known asnatural gas.
  • Theproposed rules would reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by 540,000tons, an industry-wide reduction of 25%. VOCs react with sunlight to form ground-level ozone, the key ingredientof smog and contain other toxic compounds.
  • Theproposed rules would reduce methane emissions by 3.4 million tons, which isequal to 65 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, a reduction ofabout 26%. This will be like eliminating the carbondioxide emissions of 15 coal-fired power plants.
  • Theproposed rules would reduce toxic air pollutants, such as benzene, a knowncarcinogen, by 38,000 tons, a 30% reduction.

Because state air quality regulations must at least be asstringent as federal regulations, the final rules will ultimately provide astronger safety net for public health.

The proposal comes as air pollution from the oil and gasindustry is increasingly impacting communities across the country. Technological advancements in theindustry have enabled more extensive and intensive drilling than everbefore. However, federal airquality regulations have failed to keep pace, leaving significant air pollutionsources completely unregulated. One set of regulations were adopted in 1985 and have not been updatedsince.

Growing smog problems and increasing exposure tocancer-causing benzene and other toxic compounds have been reported more andmore frequently to be associated with oil and gas drilling. Today’s rules promise significantrelief from such impacts.

EPA’s proposal updates four sets of regulations, settingforth more comprehensive control requirements for significant sources of airpollution associated with oil and natural gas production and processing, and naturalgas transmission. The rulesprimarily target volatile organic compounds, a toxic group of air pollutantsthat also react with sunlight to form ground-level ozone, the key ingredient ofsmog, but also target sulfur dioxide emissions from natural gas processingplants.

In doing so, the proposed rules focus on requiring the mostcost-effective technologies and practices, many of which promise to actuallymake industry money because of reduced natural gas losses and all of which theindustry already uses to some degree. According to EPA, compliance with the rules will save industry $29million in increased natural gas sales within a few months to a year aftercompliance. Although therules do not directly regulate methane, they will indirectly reduce methane byapproximately 3.4 million tons, a reduction of 26%. The rules also reduce VOCsby 25% (540,000 tons) and air toxics by 30% (38,000 tons).

Background Details

  • In response to a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians and the San JuanCitizens Alliance—two American West-based environmental organizations, the EPAcommitted to reviewing and updating Clean Air act regulations for the oil andnatural gas production sector by July 28, 2011 and to finalize these updates byFebruary 28, 2012.
  • The EPA’s proposed rule today updates four regulations. The first set is the “New SourcePerformance Standards,” which ensure that the latest technology is used toreduce any pollutants that endanger public health and welfare. Two standards related to the oil andgas industry were first promulgated in 1985 and only applied to natural gasprocessing plants. Today’sproposal updates the standard that reduces VOC emissions by adding requirementsto control emissions from new and modified fracked and re-fracked wells,pneumatic controllers, condensate and crude oil storage tanks, compressors andleaks from equipment located at natural gas processing plants. EPA is also strengthening the standardthat applies to sulfur dioxide emissions at natural gas processing plants.
  • The second set of regulations are called “Maximum Achievable ControlTechnology” (“MACT”) standards, which ensure that the most effective technologyavailable is used to limit toxic air emissions, such as benzene. EPA’s proposal updates MACT standardsthat apply to sources in the Oil and Natural Gas Production source category aswell as the Natural Gas Transmission and Storage category. Both MACT standards were firstpromulgated 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 glycoldehydrators, condensate and crude oil tanks and leaks from valves located atnatural gas processing plants. Specifically,the proposal requires that large glycol dehydrators must reduce air toxics by95% and establishes emission limits for small glycol dehydrators located atmajor sources. Storage tanksmust also reduce emissions by at least 95%. EPA proposed these new MACT standards after conducting a requiredresidual risk review that indicated that toxic air emissions from sourcessubject to the current MACT standard posed an unacceptable cancer risk.
  • EPA is also strengthening standards that apply to large glycoldehydrators in the Natural Gas Transmission and Storage and establishing limitsfor small glycol dehydrators located at major sources.

Learn more about WildEarth Guardians’ drilling pollution solutions.


Other Contact
Lori Sinsley, Environmental Defense Fund, 415.293.6097