The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed national standards for oil and gas drilling operations that it said would reduce air pollution, the EPA said in a news release on Thursday (7/28), with the rules targeting the recent boon in drilling across the United States known as hydraulic fracturing.
The new standards are being issued in response to a court order, EPA said. The EPA said the new standards would rely on cost-effective existing technologies to reduce emissions that contribute to smog pollution and can cause cancer while supporting the Obama administration’s priority of continuing to expand safe and responsible domestic oil and gas production.
EPA is under a consent decree requiring the agency to sign a proposal by July 28 and take final action by Feb. 28, 2012. As part of the public comment period EPA will hold three public hearings in the Dallas, Denver and Pittsburgh areas.
The new rules include reviews of four air regulations for the oil and natural gas industry as required by the Clean Air Act: a new source performance standard for volatile organic compounds from equipment leaks at gas processing plants; a new source performance standard for sulfur dioxide emissions from gas processing plants; an air toxics standard for oil and natural gas production; and an air toxics standard for natural gas transmission and storage.
“The standards would leverage operators’ ability to capture and sell natural gas that currently escapes into the air, resulting in more efficient operations while reducing harmful emissions that can impact air quality in surrounding areas and nearby states,” EPA said.
The administration said the proposal would cut smog-forming volatile organic compound emissions from several types of processes and equipment used in the oil and gas industry, including 95% reduction in VOCs emitted during the completion of new and modified hydraulically fractured wells.
“Reducing these emissions will help cut toxic pollution that can increase cancer risks and smog that can cause asthma attacks and premature death – all while giving these operators additional product to bring to market,” said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.
Howard Feldman, the American Petroleum Institute’s director of scientific and regulatory policy, said Thursday that the API will review the proposed new standards. He said EPA has already imposed stringent emissions limitations on engines used in these oil and gas operations.
“API will review these proposed rules to ensure that they don’t inadvertently create unsafe operating conditions, are cost effective and truly provide additional public health benefits, and don’t stifle the development of our abundant natural resources,” Feldman said.
He also said the EPA should extend the final rule beyond 2012 at least six months to allow adequate time to analyze comments on the proposed rules.
Natural gas production in the U.S. is growing, with more than 25,000 new and existing wells fractured or re-fractured each year. The VOC reductions in the proposal are expected to help reduce ozone nonattainment problems in many areas where oil and gas production occurs. Methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas—more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, EPA said. Today’s proposal changes also would reduce cancer risks from emissions of several air toxics, including benzene, said the regulator.