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Air emissions control requirements eased for oil, gas drilling in U.S.

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
March 8, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 11

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken several pollution-related actions that it says will save the oil and natural gas drilling industry $14 to $16 million over the next 15 years.

On March 1, Bill Wehrum, a top EPA air regulation official and former oil industry attorney, said the changes were necessary “to provide regulatory certainty to one of the largest sectors of the American economy and avoid unnecessary compliance costs to both covered entities and the states.”

Most notably, EPA proposes to suspend a 2016 guidance intended to encourage oil and gas drilling operators and state regulators to apply leak control technologies to limit emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Use of the technologies is an option to help industry and state regulators reduce levels of health-harming ozone in regions unable to meet national air quality standards. When it issued the guidance, EPA estimated that it would prevent loss to the environment of 58,000 metric tons of VOCs from drilling sites per year.

A side benefit to using the technologies is that they would also limit leakage of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. EPA estimated that some 180,000 metric tons of methane would be collected annually if the guidelines were implemented.

The oil and gas industry has strongly opposed the guidelines, even though they do not mandate use of leak control technologies.

Studies by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) found some 25 million people mostly in Pennsylvania and Texas would be adversely affected by the change. These people live in areas that are out of compliance with ozone air pollution standards because of oil and gas drilling.

“I was surprised by the withdrawal,” says Matt Watson, associate vice president for EDF’s Climate & Energy Program. “These are mostly off-the-shelf technologies, such as better equipment and valves. States and companies don’t have to use them, but their use gives them an option to meet air reduction requirements. This is a tool to provide flexibility, something the administration said it wanted.”

EPA also plans to suspend requirements issued under the Obama administration that drillers repair leaking components during emergency shutdowns and that well-site emissions in Alaska be closely monitored.



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