Proposed Withdrawal of Oil and Gas Control Techniques Guidelines
Public comment closed April 23, 2018

Docket IDEPA-HQ-OAR-2015-0216

Docket information @ https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=EPA-HQ-OAR-2015-0216

What’s at Risk, Talking Points, and What You Can Do

The Trump EPA has proposed to withdraw guidelines that assist states in controlling air pollution from the oil and natural gas industry and trigger related clean air planning requirements in many areas with ozone smog problems.  The withdrawal would set back efforts to control air pollution from existing equipment in the oil and gas industry.

EPA says the oil and gas sector is the largest industrial source of emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a group of chemicals that react in the atmosphere to form ground-level ozone (smog).  Exposure to ozone is linked to a wide range of health effects, including aggravated asthma, increased emergency room visits and hospital admissions, and premature death.[i]

If left in place, EPA estimates, the guideline would result in pollution reductions each year of more than 64,000 tons of smog-forming VOCs, nearly 200,000 tons of climate-changing methane, and 2,400 tons of hazardous air pollutants linked to a variety of serious health effects.[ii]

The guidelines assist states in cutting pollution by providing information on recommended control techniques for VOCs that are emitted by a wide range of operations and equipment in the oil and gas sector.  States can choose different control approaches than suggested by the non-binding “control techniques guidelines” (CTG).

But in addition, when EPA issues a CTG, the Clean Air Act requires states to revise their clean air plans to require “reasonably available control technology” for existing pollution sources covered by the CTG and located in certain areas with ozone smog problems.  Withdrawal of the CTG would mean that, as a practical matter, much uncontrolled or under-controlled oil and gas industry equipment in those areas would continue to emit pollution without reasonably available controls.

About the Oil and Natural Gas Control Guideline

EPA issued the guideline in October 2016 to assist state, local and tribal agencies in determining “reasonably available control technology” (RACT) for VOC air pollution from existing facilities and equipment in the oil and natural gas industry.  The oil and natural gas industry includes a wide range of facilities and equipment, from wells to natural gas gathering lines and processing facilities, to storage tanks, and transmission and distribution pipelines.

In addition to contribution to formation of ozone smog, VOC emissions from the oil and gas industry include hazardous air pollutants such as benzene, ethylbenzene, and n-hexane.  These pollutants, also known as toxic air pollutants, are pollutants known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health problems such as birth defects or nervous system damage.

The oil and gas industry is a significant source of emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.  It is important to control methane without delay because, as EPA’s web site notes, methane has a global warming potential about 86 times that of carbon dioxide over 20 years.

The little-known CTG is important because it triggers a Clean Air Act requirement[iii] for state, local and tribal agencies to control pollution from existing pollution sources in the oil and gas industry in certain areas.  Specifically, issuance of an EPA control techniques guideline requires states to revise their clean air plans to require reasonably available control technology for pollution sources covered by the guideline in:

23 ozone nonattainment areas for the 2008 national ambient air quality standard for ozone that are classified as moderate, serious, severe or extreme. (Additional areas might be affected when EPA classifies areas with ozone levels higher than the 2015 ozone standard, which is more stringent to reflect the most recent science.)

the Ozone Transport Region, which includes 13 states stretching from northern Virginia to Maine, plus the District of Columbia.[iv]

With the CTG in place, state plan revisions requiring reasonably available controls for oil and gas facilities are due October 21, 2018.  States must require facility compliance as soon as practicable but no later than January 1, 2021.  The CTG provides non-binding presumptions about the control technology that is reasonably available.  States have flexibility to justify other control techniques approaches consistent with the Clean Air Act and implementing regulations.[v]

Separately, EPA has issued other rules for the oil and gas sector that have garnered more attention -- “new source performance standards” to cut VOC (2012) and to control methane pollution (2016).  However, those national rules apply only to new sources and the reconstruction and modification of existing sources.  Because of the Clean Air Act’s division of state and federal responsibilities, those national rules do not cover existing sources that are not modifying or reconstructing.  The CTG, by contrast, helps states to regulate existing sources.

Trump Administration Rollback Proposal

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on March 1, 2018, signed a Federal Register notice requesting public comment on a potential withdrawal of the guidelines.  The notice says that the control techniques recommendations made in the CTG are “fundamentally linked” to the conclusions in the 2016 new source performance standards for the oil and gas industry, and the Trump EPA is reconsidering that 2016 rule.  As a result, “the EPA believes it is prudent to withdraw the CTG in its entirety,” the notice states.

Suggested Talking Points

I oppose the Trump Administration’s proposal to withdraw the oil and natural gas control techniques guidelines (CTG) because withdrawal means more ozone smog, more climate-changing methane pollution, and more toxic air pollution.  That pollution harms Americans’ health and welfare, and our natural environment.

EPA’s own estimate is that the withdrawal of the CTG would forgo pollution reductions each year of more than 64,000 tons of smog-forming VOCs, nearly 200,000 tons of climate-changing methane, and 2,400 tons of hazardous air pollutants linked to a variety of serious health effects.

EPA says the oil and gas sector is the largest industrial source of emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a group of chemicals that react in the atmosphere to form ground-level ozone (smog).  Exposure to ozone is linked to a wide range of health effects, including aggravated asthma, increased emergency room visits and hospital admissions, and premature death.[vi]

VOC emissions from the oil and gas industry include hazardous air pollutants such as benzene, ethylbenzene, and n-hexane.  These pollutants, also known as toxic air pollutants, are pollutants known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health problems such as reproductive effects or nervous system problems.

VOC controls recommended by the guideline also would reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.  Delay in controlling methane would be a dangerous mistake because, as EPA’s web site notes, methane has a global warming potential about 86 times that of carbon dioxide over 20 years.

Issuance of the oil and gas CTG triggered a Clean Air Act requirement for states to revise their clean air plans within two years to require “reasonably available control technology” for oil and gas industry equipment that is covered by the CTG and located in certain areas with ozone smog problems.

Withdrawal of the CTG would mean, as a practical matter, that much of that uncontrolled or under-controlled existing oil and gas industry equipment would continue to emit pollution without reasonably available controls.  As a result, unnecessary risks to public health and the environment would continue.

The agency’s stated rationale for withdrawing the CTG is that it is reconsidering the 2016 oil and gas methane rule, a national rule that established performance standards for oil and natural gas industry pollution sources that are new or modified.  Neither the national rule nor the CTG should be weakened or withdrawn.

What You Can Do

It would be great if well-reasoned, fact-based comments were enough to win the day, but in today's deregulatory environment, raising the political stakes of regulatory rollbacks is crucial to stopping or slowing them down.  For rules that are particularly important to you, please consider taking one or more of the following steps. These methods can help to mobilize public opinion and spur elected leaders to fight the destructive changes that the Trump Administration is promoting.

Write to your members of Congress and other elected officials.  Let them know your concerns and ask them to weigh in on this rollback, and speak out publicly in favor of the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule.  You can find contact information for your member of Congress and other elected officials.

Write letters to the editor and even op-eds in your local papers.  Letters to the editor should be fairly brief.

Organize or participate in campaigns to make phone calls or write letters to members of Congress, and make phone calls to radio stations during call-in days, or take other actions to spread the word.

Inform your local officials about these issues, and ask them to make a public statement or submit comments on a proposed rollback if your jurisdiction has a stake in these issues.  Bring up these issues at town hall meetings.

Spread the word via social media.  Tag your elected officials so they know how you feel.

Join or organize demonstrations.

Talk to your friends, colleagues and neighbors and encourage them to comment and otherwise join in this effort.

Vote.

Finally, if you live in a state with oil and gas development, let officials in your area know that you support efforts to reduce waste and methane emissions.  Write to your elected leaders, get involved with local activists who are encouraging local or state action.  Voice your concern and encouragement in the media, social media, at local meetings, and at every opportunity.  In the absence of federal leadership, it is vitally important that states and local governments fill the void.

Links For More Information

EPA web page on Oil and Gas CTG:  https://www.epa.gov/controlling-air-pollution-oil-and-natural-gas-industry/2016-control-techniques-guidelines-oil-and

The Oil and Gas Threat Map, a project of the Clean Air Task Force and Earthworks, 2017, http://oilandgasthreatmap.com/ozone-smog/gasping-for-breath/  

For a look at how methane emissions are affecting Colorado, see Save EPA's discussion at http://saveepaalums.info/Colorado+Impacts

ENDNOTES

[i] EPA, https://www.epa.gov/controlling-air-pollution-oil-and-natural-gas-industry/basic-information-about-oil-and-natural-gas

[ii] https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=EPA-HQ-OAR-2015-0216-0342

[iii] Clean Air Act section 182(b)(2)(A), sections 183 (c) through (e), and Section 184(b).  See the “Introduction” section of the Oil and Gas CTG.

[iv] The Ozone Transport Region (OTR), created by Congress in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, includes: Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and northern Virginia.  The Act requires certain control measures throughout the OTR, and an Ozone Transport Commission with representation from all the involved states is responsible for advising EPA on transport issues and for developing and implementing regional solutions to the ground-level ozone problem in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

[v] EPA memorandum, “Implementing Reasonably Available Control Technology Requirements for Sources covered by the 2016 Control Techniques Guidelines for the Oil and Nautral Gas Industry, Octoer 20, 2016.  See https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-10/documents/implementing_reasonably_available_control_technology_requirements_for_sources_covered_by_the_2016_control_techniques_guidelines_for_the_oil_and_natural_gas_industry.pdf

[vi] EPA, https://www.epa.gov/controlling-air-pollution-oil-and-natural-gas-industry/basic-information-about-oil-and-natural-gas

 

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