EPA Announces Hearing in Pittsburgh on Oil & Natural Gas Air Pollution Standards
On July 28, 2011, the EPA proposed a suite of standards to reduce air pollution from the oil and natural gas industry. These rules were the result of a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance. As WildEarth Guardian's explained, in 2009, when the suit was filed:
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to review and update clean air regulations every eight years. EPA .. failed to update two sets of clean air regulations it originally issued in 1985 and 1999, and ...failed altogether to issue a required third set of regulations. The result is a number of oil and gas operations and pollutants spewed by those operations are not limited in any way. Even oil and gas operations covered by the outdated regulations are not required to use the latest technologies to safeguard public health and the climate.
Oil and gas operations, including exploration, production and processing operations, consist of many pieces of equipment and practices that release air pollutants known to be harmful to public health and welfare. The impact on air quality includes emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxide, particulates and hazardous air pollutants. VOCs and nitrogen oxides mix with air and sunlight to produce ground-level ozone, which causes a variety of respiratory problems. While the emission of hazardous air pollutants is linked to elevated levels of cancer and neurological health issues.
Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director at WildEarth Guardians explained the highlights of the new fleet of proposed rule on his blog:
- The proposed rules would generate a net savings of $30 million annually due to increased recovery of methane, otherwise known as natural gas. In other words, the rules would not only cost nothing to implement, but they would actually make money.
- The proposed rules would reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by 540,000 tons, an industry-wide reduction of 25%. VOCs react with sunlight to form ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog and contain other toxic compounds.
- The proposed rules would reduce methane emissions by 3.4 million tons, which is equal to 65 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, a reduction of about 26%. This will be like eliminating the carbon dioxide emissions of 15 coal-fired power plants. That is huge progress for the climate.
- The proposed rules would reduce toxic air pollutants, such as benzene, a known carcinogen, by 38,000 tons, a 30% reduction.
Oil and gas operations in Pennsylvania and across the country continue to threaten public health and air quality and a lot of work remains. Jeremy Nichols explains some of the weaknesses of the proposed rules:
There are shortcomings. The rules do not explicitly regulate methane, a potent greenhouse gas. WildEarth Guardians and others estimated that a full suite of methane controls could save more than $1 billion annually. Still, even with the VOC controls, the rules would reduce methane emissions by more than 20% from the oil and gas sector, which itself is the largest source of methane in the United States. That’s amazing news for the climate.
And of course, let’s be clear that cleaner natural gas is not the solution to our nation’s energy needs. However, if we start to make progress toward exposing the clean air impacts of drilling and to at least hold industry accountable to protecting our health and well-being, we can make some major strides to ensure renewable energy and other cleaner sources of energy comes out ahead as the most desirable solution.
Citizens can support the implementation of these rules and call for even stronger air quality regulations and protection by attending or speaking at the Oil and Natural Gas Air Pollution Standards Public Meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 27, 2011. The Public Meeting will be held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Rooms 315–316, located at 1000 Ft. Duquesne Blvd., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15222; telephone: (412) 565–6000. If you would like to present oral testimony at the public hearing, please contact Ms. Joan C. Rogers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, Sector Policies and Programs Division (E143-03), Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27711; telephone: (919) 541-4487; fax number: (919) 541-3470; e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (preferred method for registering), no later than by 4 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time), 2 business days prior to each hearing. The last day to register to present oral testimony in advance will be Friday, September 23, 2011, for the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, public hearing.
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