New federal air pollution rules would be EPA’s first for fracked wells
Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/08/MahurinEnviro_Thumb5.jpgThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its proposed new rules for air pollution from the oil and natural gas industry today, which the agency says will “cut smog-forming volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by nearly one-fourth across the oil and gas industry.”
While natural gas processing facilities are already covered by EPA rules, the new proposals would include controls for other steps in the natural gas production chain, including compressor stations, storage tanks, pneumatic controllers and well completions.
A slideshow accompanying the announcement said the rules would be the first federal air standards for wells that were hydraulically fractured.
The agency’s new rules would apply to new frack jobs and old wells being refracked. The agency is also proposing to lower the threshold for cancer-causing benzene emissions from major sources, and tighten its definition of a “leak” at natural gas processing plants.
As the Texas Independent reported, the EPA is in the middle of a series of new rule announcements bound to draw more fire from Gov. Rick Perry and other state officials.
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality commissioner Bryan Shaw blasted EPA’s new rules on cross-state pollution issued earlier this month, in an editorial, saying the rules seemed intended to “impose unnecessary, expensive federal controls on industry and increase the costs of energy to consumers.”
Today, a TCEQ spokeswoman said it was too say much about the latest proposals:
As soon as EPA makes the actual rule proposal available, we will review and evaluate it for any potential effects. It would be premature to comment on this proposal with the limited amount of information provided in their press release and fact sheet.
It may be lousy timing for the new rules, politically, but the new rules are the result of a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, requiring updated standards by the end of February 2012.
The EPA is heading off cost complaints in its announcement today, arguing that eliminating natural gas leaks will help make producers more profitable in the long run:
EPA’s analysis of the proposed changes, which also include requirements for storage tanks and other equipment, show they are highly cost-effective, with a net savings to the industry of tens of millions of dollars annually from the value of natural gas that would no longer escape to the air.
A fact sheet accompanying the announcement offers more details on EPA’s cost estimates (read the full fact sheet below):
EPA estimates the combined annual costs of meeting the proposed requirements would be $754 million in 2015. The estimated value of the natural gas and condensate that would be made available for sale is $783 million – a net savings of $29 million when the rules are combined.
Apart from the potential impact on industry, the agency also offered a reminder of its public health mission.
“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,” EPA assistant administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement.
The agency will hold three public meetings for comment on the new rules, including one in Dallas, before adopting the final rules in February.
The EPA is also in the midst of a separate study, looking at possible water contamination risks tied to hydrofracking. That report, which will include measurements from North Texas wells in the Barnett Shale region, is due by the end of 2012.
EPA Proposes Air Pollution Standards for Oil and Gas Production
Cost-effective, flexible standards rely on operators’ ability to capture and sell natural gas that currently escapes, threatens air quality
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today proposed standards to reduce harmful air pollution from oil and gas drilling operations. These proposed updated standards – which are being issued in response to a court order – would rely on cost-effective existing technologies to reduce emissions that contribute to smog pollution and can cause cancer while supporting the administration’s priority of continuing to expand safe and responsible domestic oil and gas production. 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.
“This administration has been clear that natural gas is a key component of our clean energy future, and the steps announced today will help ensure responsible production of this domestic energy source,” said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “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.”
Today’s proposal would cut smog-forming volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from several types of processes and equipment used in the oil and gas industry, including a 95 percent reduction in VOCs emitted during the completion of new and modified hydraulically fractured wells. This dramatic reduction would largely be accomplished by capturing natural gas that currently escapes to the air and making that gas available for sale through technologies and processes already in use by several companies and required in some states.
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. In addition, the VOC reductions would yield a significant environmental benefit by reducing methane emissions from new and modified wells. Methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas – more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Today’s proposed changes also would reduce cancer risks from emissions of several air toxics, including benzene.
EPA’s analysis of the proposed changes, which also include requirements for storage tanks and other equipment, show they are highly cost-effective, with a net savings to the industry of tens of millions of dollars annually from the value of natural gas that would no longer escape to the air. Today’s proposal includes 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 VOCs 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.
EPA is under a consent decree requiring the agency to sign a proposal by July 28, 2011 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. Details on the hearings will be announced soon.
EPA oil and gas air pollution rule proposals July 2011