EPA's Proposed Clean Air Protections are Good First Step

September 27, 2011


Lori Sinsley, Media Director, 415.293.6097 (office), lsinsley@edf.org
Ramon Alvarez, Senior Scientist, 512.788.2246 (mobile), ralvarez@edf.org

(Washington, DC – September 27, 2011) The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule for new national clean air standards for oil and natural gas will reduce harmful air pollution, protect public health and the environment, and prevent the waste of a valuable domestic energy source, according to testimony this week by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). The updated standards are a critical first step but key areas can be improved. EDF highlights protections provided and areas for improvement in a preliminary analysis of the regulations.

That is the message that EDF air pollution experts will be delivering this week at three EPA public hearings, where they’ll be making the case that America needs rigorous national emission standards to strengthen protections for public health and the environment. The hearings are today in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, tomorrow in Denver, Colorado, and on Thursday in Arlington, Texas. The EPA will accept public comments on the regulations through October 24th and is required to issue final rules by February 28, 2012.

“Updated standards will reduce harmful air pollution through highly cost-effective controls and avoid the needless waste of a valuable domestic energy source: natural gas,” said EDF senior scientist Ramon Alvarez, who will testify at the hearing Thursday, September 29, in Arlington, Texas. “They will also standardize many common sense practices and technologies that natural gas companies already use successfully benefit from financially.”

Oil and natural gas exploration and production are rapidly increasing in urban and rural areas of the country due to technological developments such as ”fracking” that have made extraction of previously untapped unconventional resources feasible. Yet, the clean air standards covering these activities have not been updated since 1985 in one case and 1999 in another. Having inadequate, outdated national standards threatens families and communities who must breathe hazardous air pollutants and airborne contaminants known to seriously impact human health.

Case in point: wintertime ozone levels that exceed the nation’s health-based air quality standards have been recorded in remote parts of Wyoming and Utah where there is little industrial activity other than oil and gas production. Previously pristine parts of those states monitor high pollution episodes with pollution levels that are higher than some of the most heavily polluted cities. Natural gas and oil operations also are the largest U.S. source of methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas with a warming potential 72 times that of carbon dioxide over the short-term (20 years).

“The good news is that there are existing, cost-effective solutions at hand. EPA’s proposal builds from regulations in place in states such as Colorado and Wyoming. EPA actually worked with oil and gas companies to identify more than 100 technologies and best management practices to recover more product and reduce emissions from upstream activities,” Alvarez added. Many of these solutions form the basis for EPA’s proposed rules.

Smart standards would ensure that our domestic resources are being used wisely, avoiding the waste of a valuable energy source. Companies that recover more gas get more product they can sell that’s worth millions of dollars. The EPA has estimated that the natural gas industry lost more than $1 billion in profits in 2009, due to venting, flaring and so-called “fugitive emissions” of pollutants released into air from leaks in pressurized equipment, such as well heads, tanks, pipe lines, compressor engine seals, and valves. The return on the initial investment for many of these practices can be a few months to almost always less than two years.

Achieving EPA’s proposed standards is cost-effective and proven to reduce pollution. They are similar to current state-level regulations in Colorado and Wyoming where, according to a recent EDF analysis, the oil and natural gas sector in these states experienced considerable growth while meeting state air pollution standards comparable to those proposed by EPA.

‘It’s vitally important for EPA to continue to improve the protection of human health and the environment and it has already shown that these practices are delivering economic benefits to the companies that use them,” Alvarez said.

The rules go a long way toward maximizing the multiple benefits that come from using readily available technologies and practices. Yet there is still room for improvement as EDF’s analysis points out. The proposal fails to reduce emissions from many existing sources, which means that they will continue to contribute to unhealthy levels of air pollution for years to come. EPA’s proposal also declines to reduce methane emissions directly. While reductions in this potent greenhouse gas will occur as a co-benefit of compliance with many of the proposed requirements, additional opportunities to prevent waste of natural gas, primarily comprised of methane, were not included.

About EDF

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