EPA proposes air pollution standards for oil and gas drilling operations; focus on capture of escaping natural gas
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 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.
The 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% reduction in VOCs emitted during the completion of new and modified hydraulically fractured wells. This significant 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 USis 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. The 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, finds 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. The 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 28 July 2011 and take final action by 28 Feb. 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.