EDF and Allies Defend EPA Emission Standards for Oil and Gas Pollution

Source: Angela Keck Law Offices LLC

Source: Angela Keck Law Offices LLC

By: Tomás Carbonell, EDF Attorney, and Brian Korpics, EDF Legal Fellow

This post originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog

As we have highlighted before, EPA’s recent actions regarding storage tank standards is of particular interest to Texas.  In 2009 alone, there were 6,120 storage tanks built in Texas large enough to be subject to EPA’s standards. The standards will apply only to new tanks. Since the number of new tanks is related to the number of existing wells, and Texas accounts for approximately 23% of new oil wells and 33% of new gas wells drilled in the U.S. (far greater than any other state), Texas is likely to account for a large share of the country’s new storage tanks. From a health standpoint, this rule preserves important protections for Texans, but much more remains to be done. Many counties in Texas fail to meet health based air quality standards. EPA needs to fortify thoughtful rules that place public health above all else, so that Texans (and many others) can breathe safe, healthy air that is free of ozone and other harmful contaminants. 

A new year may be upon us, but – unfortunately – some members of the oil and gas industry would prefer we roll back the clock on common sense, long-overdue emission standards for oil and gas equipment.

Oil and natural gas production continues to expand rapidly in the United States – and with it the potential for emissions of climate-destabilizing pollutants (especially methane), smog-forming compounds and carcinogenic substances, such as benzene.  We urgently need rigorous national standards that comprehensively address the full suite of pollutants from oil and gas facilities, protect public health and the environment and conserve needless waste of our nation’s natural resources.

In August 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a promising first step by issuing emission standards for new natural gas wells and other oil and gas equipment, including the thousands of large storage tanks built near gas wells, pipelines and processing facilities each and every year.  These “New Source Performance Standards” (NSPS) were based on proven and highly-effective emission control technologies that leading companies have been using for years.  Many of these control technologies also directly benefit a company’s bottom line by reducing avoidable waste of natural gas from vents and leaks – saving money while protecting our climate and air.

Regrettably, some industry associations have consistently attacked these common-sense standards.  In response to industry petitions seeking to weaken vital clean air requirements for storage tanks, EPA proposed to revise these standards in April 2013.  Among other things, the proposed revisions would have created a broad exemption for approximately 20,000 facilities built between August 2011 and April 2013.  EDF and five other environmental organizations joined together to file extensive comments strongly opposing these proposed rollbacks, and highlighting the benefits of rigorous national emission standards.  Our comments objected that the proposed exemption would lead to massive increases in emissions of harmful pollutants – over 3 million tons of smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and 700,000 tons of methane over the lifetime of these storage tanks.

Fortunately, these and other comments prompted EPA to retract this broad exemption in its final rule issued in August 2013.  EPA instead maintained its requirement that operators of all high-emitting storage tanks built since August 2011 reduce emissions by 95 percent.  EPA noted that the supply of emission controls for storage tanks was adequate, and concluded that the broad exemptions sought by industry were not justified.

Industry responded to this development by taking EPA to court.  On November 22, five industry groups – the American Petroleum Institute (API), Texas Oil and Gas Association, Independent Petroleum Association of America, Western Energy Alliance and Gas Processors Association – filed suit in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. challenging EPA’s emission standards.

Just before the holidays, Earthjustice and EDF filed a motion to intervene in that suit.  Along with several other environmental organizations, we are vigorously seeking to defend EPA’s action and safeguard these national emission standards.

While some industry players attempt to obstruct critical clean air progress, others are supporting common sense air pollution control measures.  Last month, Colorado proposed new air regulations for oil and gas operations that, if adopted, will help dramatically reduce harmful air and climate pollution caused by oil and gas operations.  The state of Colorado, EDF and three energy companies—Anadarko Petroleum, Encana Corporation and Noble Energy—worked together on these measures that could result in cleaner, safer air for all Coloradoans.

In places like Colorado, diverse interests are putting aside their differences and finding clean air solutions.  It’s time for API and other oil and gas associations to do the same – and invest in clean air solutions for our nation, not litigation.

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