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Comment Period Closes on EPA's Proposed Emissions Rules

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received more than 4,100 comments on its proposed standards to reduce air pollution from oil and natural gas drilling operations, especially operations employing hydraulic fracturing (fracking), by the time the public comment period closed Wednesday.

In comments filed with EPA, industry representatives, including the American Gas Association, American Petroleum Institute (API), America's Natural Gas Alliance and Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), recommended dozens of modifications to the proposed rulemaking, including changes to many of the definitions used in the agency's proposal.

"EPA's definition of natural gas well completions creates a significant inequity," IPAA said in its filing. "EPA applies its NSPS [new source performance standards] to any natural gas well completion that uses hydraulic fracturing. The sweep of this definition would capture natural gas well completions that include only a vertical component and wells with both vertical and horizontal components. However, it is clear that in developing its basis for its reduced emissions completion (REC) or 'green completion' technology, EPA bases its determinations on well completions with horizontal legs...requiring REC on all natural gas well completions makes no sense."

EPA's baseline date on emissions from oil and gas wells also needs to be modified, according to some filings.

And, despite an EPA extension of the public comment period, the agency is working on an accelerated timetable, according to some in the industry.

In September major producer groups called on EPA to give them more time to comment on the proposed standards. API and others asked for an additional 60 days; EPA instead extended the original Oct. 22 closing date to Nov. 30.

"In addition to the inordinately short time frame for commenting, the vagueness of the proposal has deprived members of the public of the opportunity to provide meaningful comment and will prevent EPA from finalizing a rule that will withstand judicial scrutiny," said the Arkansas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners in comments filed Nov. 23.

An API official did not rule out the possibility that the group would challenge in court the EPA proposed rules to reduce air pollution from oil and natural gas drilling operations if its recommended improvements to the rule are ignored.

"Obviously, we're going to try to work with the agency to get a satisfactory rule without having to go to litigation. But it would not be unprecedented for us to litigate an EPA rule," said Howard Feldman, API director of regulatory and scientific affairs, during a teleconference with reporters Thursday.

EPA's 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 hydrofracked wells. The agency said this dramatic reduction would largely be accomplished by capturing gas that 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.

Issued in response to a court order following lawsuits from environmental groups, the updated standards would rely on "cost-effective existing technologies" to reduce emissions that contribute to smog pollution and can cause cancer while supporting the Obama administration's priority of expanding safe and responsible domestic oil and gas production (see Shale Daily, July 29).

The Department of Energy (DOE) on Thursday released a study which concluded which proposed EPA rules for clean air standards "will not create resource adequacy issues." The report compared compliance deadlines even more stringent than those that are expected to be associated with the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to typical timelines for the installation of pollution controls at existing plants and construction of new generation capacity, DOE said.

"Our review, combined with several other studies, demonstrate that new EPA rules -- which will provide extensive public health protections from an array of harmful pollutants -- should not create resource adequacy issues," said David Sandalow, assistant secretary of energy for policy and international affairs. "Any local reliability challenges that could arise should be manageable with timely cooperation and effective coordination among all relevant stakeholders."

There have been objections to the federal agencies' shale efforts. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) (see Shale Daily, Nov. 2) and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (see Shale Daily, Oct. 27) are among those who have said regulation of shale gas and related issues -- including the use of fracking -- should be left to state officials. Lynn Helms, director of North Dakota's Department of Mineral Resources, has said he worries that proposed EPA rules regarding fracking could bring that state's current oil and gas boom to a virtual standstill for up to two years (see Shale Daily, Nov. 30). The Marcellus Shale Coalition has warned that proposed air emission standards to be imposed on the oil and gas industry could stifle natural gas production (see Shale Daily, Aug. 1). And industry experts last month told members of Congress that shale gas should be regulated by the states without interference from the federal government (see Shale Daily, Nov. 18).

EPA is due to finalize the air pollution rule by April 3, 2012.

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