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SoCal Air Regulators Set New Urban Drilling Rules

Southern California air quality regulators Friday adopted measures to lessen the potential for odors from oil and natural gas drilling in urban residential areas.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) approved several amendments to its rules for oil/gas wells, committing to "monitor and evaluate the impacts from oil and gas operations on communities," according to SCAQMD Chairman William Burke. The requirements apply to the greater Los Angeles Basin.

There are an estimated 242 operators with 4,320 onshore oil and gas wells in the four-county area covered by SCAQMD. New requirements include:

  • Implementing odor mitigation best practices, including signage with an SCAQMD telephone number and odor monitoring systems;
  • Submittal of "specific-cause analysis" within 30 days of any confirmed odor or oil deposition event within 1,500 feet of homes; and
  • Developing and implementing a SCAQMD-approved odor mitigation plan if an odor nuisance violation is issued on two or more days, or after three or more confirmed odor events within a six-month period.

Industry opposition was dropped Friday when the SCAQMD board decided to change the requirement for daily inspection of wells to those within 100 meters (328 feet) of residences, rather than a 1,500-foot requirement that was originally proposed. This prompted environmental groups to complain that the regional air board was weakening the requirements, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

SCAQMD Executive Director Barry Wallerstein called the last-minute changes minimal, and the overall rules "the most stringent in the nation as leading-edge controls for urban oilfields," the Times reported.

Even though the new rules will create additional expenses for the operators, this is "something the industry is willing to do to provide more transparency" in their operations, a Sacramento-based spokesperson for the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) told NGI on Tuesday. "They are the rules. They will create additional regulation and expense, but they will also mean greater transparency."

One CIPA caveat, however, is that anti-oil/gas groups may in the future "try to distort the data [reported by operators] for political purposes," the spokesperson said.

Separately, the SCAQMD also changed notification and reporting requirements for oil/gas wells and their chemical suppliers to make the chemical reporting requirements under the air board consistent with state well stimulation rules that became effective July 1 (see Shale DailyJuly 2).

SCAQMD said the increased odor rules are a direct result of operations by AllenCo Energy near downtown Los Angeles that led to nearly 300 complaints and more than 150 inspections with 18 violation notices between 2010 and 2014 (see Shale DailyNov. 27, 2013).

More recently, there has been a fight between residents and a unit of Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas Co. over plans by the operator to flare associated gas at the site, which is in a working class neighborhood south of downtown Los Angeles (see Daily GPIAug. 18).

City officials and others are questioning the Freeport plans, but the company contends it is exercising its rights under permits already in place. It was the focus of opposition from residents earlier this year (see Daily GPI, April 28). SCAQMD approved the onsite gas combustion in April, 2013, followed by a city planning approval in December that year. The urban wellsite was originally permitted in 1961.

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