The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may add some natural gas processing plants to the list of facilities required to report emissions under its Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program, according to a letter signed by Administrator Gina McCarthy.
McCarthy's letter dated Oct. 22 was in response to a 2012 petition led by Washington, DC-based nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project (EIP). The EIP, joined by 16 other groups, had petitioned the EPA to bring all oil and gas extraction activities under the TRI reporting requirements, but the federal agency granted only part of that request.
McCarthy's formal response to the petitioners stated that "EPA has determined that natural gas processing facilities may be appropriate for addition to the scope of TRI…” Gas processing facilities in the United States, she wrote, “manufacture, process or otherwise use more than 25 different TRI-listed chemicals," including hydrogen sulfide, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.
Only gas processing plants that have 10 or more full-time equivalent employees and that process more than 25,000 pounds of a TRI-listed chemical would be subject to the reporting requirements.
"We're pleased, obviously," EIP Director Eric Schaeffer said. "The gas processing plants...seemed the most obvious choices for TRI requirements."
Schaeffer said many natural gas processing plants are comparable to other types of facilities that meet the TRI criteria. Requiring these facilities to report any toxic emissions is part of the public's right to know, he said.
"You can put the numbers out there and let people draw their own conclusions," he said. "Let's all be informed and at least be working from a common set of facts."
Gas Processors Association (GPA) CEO Mark Sutton had a different take on the EPA's plan.
"It's important to note that most, if not all, of the information the EPA is seeking is already publicly available in one form or another, which may explain why it took EPA so long to act on the 2012 petition and the validity afforded to it," Sutton said. "However, this is a classic example of activists using the 'sue and do' concept, where they petition to the agency to do something they want and then sue the agency to ensure that it complies with their wishes. Essentially, the activists drive and control the agency's agenda in this particular situation."
But Sutton added that GPA's members intend to work with EPA to comply with any new reporting requirements.
"Operating safely and in compliance with regulations is paramount to our members' operations," he said. "GPA looks forward to engaging EPA in the rulemaking process."