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Environmental Groups Pack Public Hearing on EPA Methane Emissions Rules

Dozens of speakers representing environmental groups packed a list of speakers at a public hearing at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters on Monday to take aim at the agency's plans for a two-year stay of proposed rules governing new sources of methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry.

At issue are the fugitive emissions, pneumatic pump and professional engineer certification requirements outlined in updates to the agency's 2016 New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), which EPA first unveiled during the Obama administration. The NSPS was designed to reduce methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and toxic air pollutants.

list posted to the EPA's website showed 152 speakers were slated to testify at the hearing, which was expected to take all day -- with 66 people scheduled to speak at a morning session, followed by another 86 in the afternoon. The list included speakers for well-known environmental groups -- namely, Earthjustice, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Greenpeace, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Sierra Club -- but smaller groups like Moms Clean Air Force were also represented.

Craig Stevens, spokesman for the environmental group Patriots From The Oil & Gas Shales, told NGI's Shale Daily that 175 people from about 40 states had signed up to speak at the hearing.

"The EPA needs to do their job," Stevens said after he spoke at the hearing. "I read them their mission statement, which I always do whenever I come to an EPA hearing. They didn't like that very much. The mission statement is quite clear that they're supposed to protect human health, life and the environment."

Stevens, a sixth-generation landowner from Susquehanna County, PA, said he told the EPA that the county has 50 compressor stations.

"The industry told us they were putting out water vapor, but we had 10 universities sent from all over the world tell us that there are massive amounts of formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, xylene, and VOCs going out into the air," Stevens said. "We want to not worry about that, that's exactly what [the new rules] are going to do.

"These emissions rules are ridiculous, unless you live there being poisoned by the air every day. We have many people in our area that have nose bleeds, headaches, rashes, and breathing difficulties every day because these things run 24/7 -- there's no break. We're being expected to take the brunt of all the contamination aspects. No thank you."

Last April, the EPA said it would reconsider the rules to comply with an executive order (EO) signed by President Trump on March 28. The EO included a directive for EPA to immediately review regulations on energy sources, and then to either suspend, revise or rescind them.

The EPA issued a 90-day administrative stay of the rules on May 31. In order to ensure against a gap in the stay during the reconsideration process, the agency proposed an additional three-month stay, followed by another lasting two years. A coalition of six environmental groups -- including the EDF, NRDC and the Sierra Club -- filed a lawsuit against the stay in U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on June 5. The court ruled in their favor and the lifted the stay last week.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) appeared to be the only entity to testify in favor of the EPA reconsidering the NSPS and extending the deadlines for industry compliance.

"API encourages EPA to proceed with its review and revision of the underlying rule as expeditiously as possible, based on sound science and economics, considering the operational and technical issues that have been already raised in comments and litigation," Howard Feldman, API's senior director for regulatory and scientific affairs, said according to written testimony posted online.

"EPA's 2012 rule, which directly reduces VOC emissions from oil and gas operations and those of methane as a co-benefit, was developed in collaboration with industry, is based upon industry innovation, and is proving effective. Unfortunately...EPA's 2016 rule failed to account for all of the costs associated with the final rule requirements and did not provide significant environmental benefit beyond a rule focused on VOC losses...

"The last thing we need are more duplicative and costly regulations that could increase the cost of energy for Americans, undermine our competitiveness, and hinder our ability to provide the energy our nation will continue to demand for many years to come."

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