Author Archives: Peter Zalzal

In Early Action, EPA Administrator Pruitt Moves to Block Communities’ Right to Know about Oil and Gas Pollution

Last Thursday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt withdrew the agency’s Information Collection Request (“ICR”) for the Oil and Natural Gas Sector, abruptly halting the gathering of information on harmful methane, smog-forming and toxic pollution from these industrial sources.

In announcing the move, Administrator Pruitt hailed the benefits for the oil and gas industry, but notably ignored the interests of everyday Americans right to know about harmful pollution from oil and gas facilities.

Pruitt’s action also stops EPA from obtaining information that can inform future safeguards against this pollution. Even though cost-effective, common-sense best practices and technologies exist to reduce emissions from oil and gas facilities, most existing facilities in this sector are largely exempt from any requirements to control the vast quantities of pollution they emit.

This flawed decision is at odds with the core tenets of the agency Administrator Pruitt is entrusted to lead and inimical to the health and environmental laws he has committed to faithfully execute. Unfortunately, it is also altogether predictable. Indeed this action—which allows oil and gas companies to withhold vital pollution data from thousands of sites across the country— reflects and reinforces concerns raised about Administrator Pruitt’s ability to lead an agency that he has persistently sought to undermine. Read More »

Posted in Methane, Natural Gas| Comments are closed

Defending BLM Standards that Reduce Waste, Protect Air Quality

US-DOI-BLM-logoEDF, along with a coalition of health and environmental groups, just filed a motion to intervene in defense of vital new standards that will prevent the wasteful loss of natural resources, save money for taxpayers and tribes, and reduce emissions of dangerous and climate-disrupting pollution.

The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) waste prevention standards will reduce venting, flaring, and leakage of natural gas on BLM-managed federal and tribal lands – but they are being challenged in U.S. Federal District Court in Wyoming by oil and gas industry groups and three states.

Federal and tribal lands are an important source of oil and gas production. Together, the amount they produce is the equivalent of five percent of the U.S. oil supply and 11 percent of the U.S. natural gas supply, and generates more than $2 billion annually in royalties. Read More »

Posted in Air Quality, Climate, Methane, Natural Gas| Comments are closed

A Little-Known Federal Rule Brings Invisible Pollution Into Focus

Cropped rig houseLegal fellow Jess Portmess also contributed to this post.

Unlike an oil spill, most greenhouse gas emissions are invisible to the naked eye. Though we can’t see them, this pollution represents a daily threat to our environment and communities, and it is important to understand the extent of this pollution and where it comes from.

This is why in 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a rule requiring facilities in the oil and gas industry to report yearly emissions from their operations.

The Rule is part of a larger greenhouse gas measurement, reporting, and disclosure program called for by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush. By coincidence, the rule is known as Subpart W.

The emissions data required by the Rule helps communities near oil and natural gas development better understand pollution sources, and gives companies better ways to identify opportunities to reduce emissions.

As these policies have gotten stronger under the Obama administration, industry has continued to fight them in federal court. Read More »

Posted in Military, Natural Gas| Comments are closed

Studies Provide Insight on Two Overlooked Segments of Oil and Gas Industry

Scientists David Lyon and Ramón Alvarez contributed to this post

Two studies released today in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology provide new insights into methane emissions from significant sources in the oil and natural gas sector and underscore the urgency of taking action to address pollution from these sources. The studies—focusing on the gathering and processing segment and the transmission and storage segment—were led by researchers at Colorado State and Carnegie Mellon universities and Aerodyne Research, and included collaboration with EDF and companies in each of these segments.

In the gathering and processing study, researchers measured 130 gathering and processing facilities, finding emissions at gathering facilities ranging from 0.6 to 600 standard cubic feet of methane leaking per minute (scf/m). For the transmission and storage study, a different team led by CSU also collected extensive on-site and downwind measurements of methane at 45 transmission and storage sites. Site-level methane measurements ranged from 2 to 880 scf/m, with an average measurement of 70 scf/m. Of all the facilities measured for these studies, data suggests the natural gas emitted was worth about $25 million and had the 20-year climate impact equal to the emissions of 2 million passenger vehicles. Read More »

Posted in Methane, Natural Gas| Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Clearing the Air: Environmental Groups Push for Clean Air Standards for Oil and Gas Industry

OilRefinery_36492520_Shutterstock.com_RFThis post was co-authored by Peter Zalzal, EDF Attorney, and Brian Korpics, EDF Legal Fellow


On May 13, EDF—along with a coalition of 64 local, state, and national public interest groups—submitted a petition asking the Environmental Protection Agency to address toxic air pollution emitted from oil and natural gas operations in population centers around the country.

Earthjustice crafted the petition which focuses on a provision of the Clean Air Act. It authorizes EPA to establish standards for toxic pollution from oil and natural gas wells if those wells are in major metropolitan areas (areas with a population greater than 1 million), and if the agency finds the emissions “present more than a negligible risk of adverse effects to public health.”

Read More »

Posted in Air Quality| Tagged , , , , | Read 1 Response

Strong Clean Air Standards For Natural Gas Leaks A Trifecta For America

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized important clean air measures to reduce harmful pollutants discharged from a variety of oil and natural gas activities.  Leaks, venting and flaring of natural gas from oil and gas activities contribute to ground-level ozone ("smog"), toxic air pollution such as benzene, and destabilizes the climate.  The limited federal standards that existed prior to these clean air measures covered only natural gas processing plants, and were most recently updated in part 13 years ago; other aspects of the air standards for the oil and gas industry are more than a quarter-century old.

These standards represent an important first step toward fulfilling the President’s commitment, in his State of the Union Address, to develop natural gas responsibly: “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years.  (Applause.)  And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy . . . . Because America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.” (emphasis added)

Likewise, at the President’s direction, Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu convened the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Natural Gas Subcommittee, which included a diverse array of members with experience in the industry, government, and non-profit sectors.  The Subcommittee was tasked with identifying “immediate steps that can be taken to improve the safety and environmental performance of fracking and to develop, within six months, consensus recommended advice to the agencies on practices for shale extraction to ensure the protection of public health and the environment." In its 90-day Report, the Subcommittee noted that it “supports adoption of emission standards for both new and existing sources for methane, air toxics, ozone-forming pollutants, and other major airborne contaminants resulting from natural gas exploration, production, transportation and distribution activities.”

Public health groups, including the American Lung Association, the American Thoracic Association, and others have support these common sense standards as these EPA clean air measures make important reductions in pollutants linked to asthma, cancer, and other illnesses.   In a recent letter to the President, these groups noted that “we see irrefutable evidence of serious damage to human health from air pollutants emitted during oil and natural gas production, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including air toxics such as benzene and formaldehyde, as well as increasing levels of ozone and particulate matter.”  As a result, the groups urged that “[t]he standards must be strengthened to keep up with the expansions and the new technology in the oil and gas industry.”    

EPA’s clean air measures achieve these health protective reductions by, in many cases, plugging leaks across the system.  One of the key protections under these national emission standards is the requirement to perform a reduced emission completion or “green completion.”  This, along with other standards in the rule, will reduce ozone-forming volatile organic compounds by an estimated 190,000 to 290,000 tons; reduce hazardous air pollutants like benzene by an estimated 12,000 to 20.000 tons; and reduce methane, a potent climate forcer by an estimated 1.0 to 1.7 million short tons [about 19 to 33 million tons of CO2 equivalent]. This results in saving both a domestic energy resource and saving producers money.  In fact, EPA estimates that the combined rules will yield a cost savings of $11 to $19 million in 2015, because the value of natural gas and condensate that will be recovered and sold will offset costs.

These common sense clean air measures are a win-win-win for a healthier environment, for our economy and for our energy security.  While there are additional opportunities remain to encourage safe, clean development of natural gas, EPA’s clean air measures are an important first step along this path.

Posted in Natural Gas| Read 9 Responses
  • About this Blog

    EDF Energy Exchange - Accelerating the clean energy revolution

    EDF's energy experts discuss how to accelerate the transition to a clean, low-carbon energy economy.

    Follow EDFEnergyEX

  • Get blog posts by email

    Subscribe via RSS

  • Categories

  • Authors