The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formally announced Friday that it has reinstated a requirement that oil and gas companies — and other industries — disclose the amount of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) their operations release into the environment.
The EPA’s action officially took effect on Oct. 17, when it published an announcement in the Federal Register that it was lifting an administrative stay on H2S reporting. The first reports will be due on July 1, 2013 for the reporting year 2012.
“This action is part of [EPA] Administrator Lisa Jackson’s ongoing efforts to provide Americans with helpful information on chemicals they may encounter in their daily lives,” the agency said. “The purpose of today’s action is to better inform the public about toxic chemical releases in their communities and to provide the government with information for research and the potential development of regulations.”
The H2S data submitted by industry will be added to the federal Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), a publicly accessible database that provides information on hazardous chemicals in communities.
According to the EPA, H2S — also known as sour gas — can be found naturally in crude petroleum, natural gas, volcanic gases and hot springs. It can also result from the breakdown of organic matter, and is produced by human and animal wastes. Several industries — including food processing, coke ovens, kraft paper mills, tanneries and petroleum refineries — also produce H2S, as do wastewater treatment facilities, oil and gas drilling operations, farms and landfills.
In response to petitions from the Natural Resources Defense Council and then-Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York, H2S and 20 other compounds were classified as toxic chemicals and added to Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) on Dec. 1, 1993. But the agency issued an administrative stay on H2S reporting on Aug. 22, 1994 after regulated industries took issue with rule changes they were not able to comment on, and said the EPA was being inconsistent with past practices.
“Although EPA did not agree that it had been inconsistent in its use of exposure analyses…the agency issued an administrative stay of the reporting requirements for hydrogen sulfide in order to review the concerns raised after issuance of the final rule by some members of the regulated community,” the EPA said.
But the agency said it was reinstating H2S reporting because the agency had “determined that hydrogen sulfide can reasonably be anticipated to cause serious or irreversible chronic human health effects at relatively low doses and thus is considered to have moderately high to high chronic toxicity.”
The Hydrogen Sulfide Consortium (HSC), which includes the American Petroleum Institute (API), argued that the EPA couldn’t lift the stay without revisiting the original decision to list H2S as a toxic chemical, which it promised to do in 1994. The HSC also said the EPA cited chronic respiratory effects from H2S as part of the proposed rules, but used chronic neurotoxic effects for the final rules. The only option available to the EPA, the HSC reasoned, was to make a new listing determination for H2S before lifting the stay.
The EPA disagreed.
“Listing a chemical under EPCRA Section 313 allows the public and governments to track and assess the impacts of chemical releases and make determinations as to whether or not a risk exists,” the agency said. “Without release data, the public is limited in its ability to determine whether or not releases of a toxic chemical are impacting their health and/or environment. Even if releases are low and no adverse impacts are expected, that information is still of value to the public.”
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