EPA releases draft air quality permits for Shell and ConocoPhillps Arctic oil exploration activities
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released two additional draft air quality permits for Shell Oil Company and ConocoPhillips Company exploratory oil drilling operations in the Alaska Arctic Outer Continental Shelf. This process will allow the public and other key stakeholders to provide important input and feedback on air permits needed for the drill rigs and supporting fleets of icebreakers, oil spill response vessels, and supply ships operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas beginning in the 2012 and 2013 drilling seasons.
Shell and ConocoPhillips have proposed exploration drilling operations that would emit more than 100 tons of air pollutants a year and therefore, must have federal Clean Air Act Title V Permits. Both operations would emit less than 250 tons per year and therefore, do not need Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permits. These permits limit air pollution from the drill rigs and supporting fleet of vessels and are to ensure the operations meet national ambient air quality standards.
Shell plans to begin exploration drilling with the vessel Kulluk in the Beaufort Sea beginning in the 2012 drilling season. ConocoPhillips plans to begin exploration drilling in the Chukchi Sea beginning in 2013.
Under its proposed Title V permit, Shell can operate only one vessel in the Beaufort Sea in any drilling season—either the Kulluk or the Discoverer, not both. The Discoverer and its support fleet are the subject of a separate EPA draft air quality permit currently undergoing public review and comment.
The Kulluk drilling rig arrived in Seattle’s Elliott Bay this week where its emissions reduction equipment will be retrofitted in order to comply with the draft Title V permit.
The draft Title V permits are subject to 45-day public comment periods as well as public hearings before EPA issues final permits.
EPA will accept public comments on the revised draft permits through 6 September and at public hearings in Barrow, Alaska on 23 and 24 August , and in Anchorage on 26 August. Final permits will be issued after public comments are reviewed and considered.
On 1 July, EPA also proposed revised draft air quality permits for Shell to operate the Discoverer drillship for oil and gas exploration in the Beaufort Sea and Chukchi Sea starting in 2012. Those permits are available for public comment through 5 August. The public hearing on these permits will be held on 4 August in Barrow.
EPA air permits ensure compliance with air quality regulations when and if drilling commences, but on their own do not authorize drilling. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement is the federal agency that provides authorization to drill in offshore federal waters.