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MSC: EPA's Proposed Air Standards 'Overreach'

Calling newly proposed air emission standards to be imposed on the oil and gas industry an "overreach," industry groups on Friday continued to lobby the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rethink its plans. In fact, the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) warned that the standards could stifle natural gas production, which could promote the use of other less-clean energy sources.

In a move that stunned many in the oil and natural gas business, the EPA late on Thursday released a list of proposed standards to reduce air pollution from oil and natural gas drilling operations, with particular attention paid to shale development operations, which include hydraulic fracturing (see Shale Daily, July 29).

MSC said the proposed regulations are a result of a consent decree stemming from a federal lawsuit brought forth by two groups -- based in New Mexico and Colorado -- opposed to the "responsible development" of American natural gas.

"While we understand that EPA is required by law to periodically evaluate current standards, this sweeping set of potentially unworkable regulations represents an overreach that could, ironically, undercut the production of American natural gas, an abundant energy resource that is critical to strengthening our nation's air quality," said MSC President Kathryn Klaber.

Klaber said the MSC will do its part to educate the EPA on the issue. "As this process moves forward, we look forward to providing EPA with fact-based information regarding our best practices and industry-leading operations, which are ensuring that the region's air quality is not impacted," she said. "In fact, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] studies have determined that Marcellus activities do not present any 'air-related health issues.' Our state regulators are keeping an eye on the ball. However, it's not clear if EPA is as well."

Klaber also cited three DEP reports to back up the MSC's claims. The Marcellus Shale Short-Term Air Sampling studies, which were conducted in Southwest Pennsylvania on Nov. 1, 2010, Northeastern Pennsylvania on Jan. 12, 2011 and Northcentral Pennsylvania on May 6, 2011, found that while some spots had concentrations of certain natural gas constituents including methane, ethane and propane, and associated compounds such as benzene, in the air near Marcellus Shale drilling operations, none of the regions identified "concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities."

Immediately following the release of the proposed standards, an American Petroleum Institute spokesman told NGI's Shale Daily that the institute needs to "take a look at the components of the plan" to be able to gauge what kind of impact they might have on the industry.

Dan Whitten, vice president of strategic communications for America's Natural Gas Alliance, responded to the proposed standards late Thursday. "Natural gas producers are committed to safe and responsible development including the preservation of air quality in communities where we operate," Whitten said. "We strongly believe that environmental protection and development of natural gas are not mutually exclusive. We will be studying EPA's proposed rules in the days and weeks ahead, and we will consider submitting comments as part of the notice and comment process."

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