EPA to Curb Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Drilling Nationwide

New Federal Safeguards Clear the Air, Protect Public Health, and Actually Make Industry Money


Mike Freeman, Earthjustice, (720) 989-6896


Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 573-4898, ext. 1303

Environmental and public health groups across the country today are applauding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to strengthen nationwide air quality safeguards for oil and gas development.

“These rules are a win-win solution, they are major milestone as we work to safeguard our communities from the impacts of unchecked oil and gas drilling,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director. “These proposed make clear: Drilling for oil and gas should not come at the expense of clean air.”

“EPA’s proposed clean air protections are a trifecta: they reduce harmful air pollution, prevent waste of a domestic energy source, and payback the companies by preventing leaks and venting of natural gas, a valuable commodity,” said Ramon Alvarez, senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund.

“This important announcement addresses a major public health issue,” said Sierra Club’s Natural Gas Reform Campaign Director Deb Nardone. “Natural gas drilling has been spewing vast amounts of toxins into our air every day without limits, sickening families and communities. This proposed protection would help reign in life-threatening pollution from gas drilling for the first time and is a significant step forward in cleaning up a dirty industry.”

“This is a big step forward in keeping air pollution from oil and gas drilling under control,” said Michael Freeman, staff attorney with public interest environmental law firm Earthjustice. “Based on the information we have it appears that EPA could go further than the proposed rule would. We think the agency should do so. Nevertheless this is an important first step.”

“We applaud the EPA for stepping up and protecting our nation’s air quality. These rules will not only stop the loss of a lot of natural gas that is currently lost in the production and distribution processes, but will greatly reduce the burden on the communities that supply this fuel for the nation,” adds Dan Randolph, Executive Director for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “We encourage the EPA to continue to update the regulations that are necessary to reduce the heavy burden on our communities’ and nation’s air quality from oil and gas production and distribution. While this is a good first step, a lot more is needed.”

“While we applaud EPA’s proposal as an important step in cleaning up air emissions from the oil and gas industry, and we recognize that the proposal will reduce methane emissions somewhat as a co-benefit of VOC and toxics regulation, substantially more methane reductions could be obtained by direct regulation of methane as a greenhouse gas, and we urge EPA to correct this omission in its final rule,” said David Marshall, Senior Counsel for Clean Air Task Force.

“EPA understands that reducing air pollution from oil and gas not only protects public health, but prevents massive waste, namely of methane” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, Director of the Western Environmental Law Center’s Climate and Energy Program. “This is a smart rule that will help ensure that the production of oil and gas resources is constrained within necessary limits as we make our urgent transition to truly clean energy from the sun, wind, and water.”

EPA’s proposed air regulations are cost effective and, in fact, will spark increased profits while providing substantially more protection for clean air public health from coast to coast. The rules were spurred by the Clean Air Act, which requires the EPA to regularly review and update its air quality regulations in order to keep pace with science and technology. Among the highlights of the proposed rules:

  • The proposed rules would generate a net savings of $30 million annually due to increased recovery of methane, otherwise known as natural gas.
  • 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.
  • The proposed rules would reduce toxic air pollutants, such as benzene, a known carcinogen, by 38,000 tons, a 30% reduction.

Because state air quality regulations must at least be as stringent as federal regulations, the final rules will ultimately provide a stronger safety net for public health.

The proposal comes as air pollution from the oil and gas industry is increasingly impacting communities across the country. Technological advancements in the industry have enabled more extensive and intensive drilling than ever before. However, federal air quality regulations have failed to keep pace, leaving significant air pollution sources completely unregulated. One set of regulations were adopted in 1985 and have not been updated since.

Growing smog problems and increasing exposure to cancer-causing benzene and other toxic compounds have been reported more and more frequently to be associated with oil and gas drilling. Today’s rules promise significant relief from such impacts.

EPA’s proposal updates four sets of regulations, setting forth more comprehensive control requirements for significant sources of air pollution associated with oil and natural gas production and processing, and natural gas transmission. The rules primarily target volatile organic compounds, a toxic group of air pollutants that also react with sunlight to form ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog, but also target sulfur dioxide emissions from natural gas processing plants.

In doing so, the proposed rules focus on requiring the most cost-effective technologies and practices, many of which promise to actually make industry money because of reduced natural gas losses and all of which the industry already uses to some degree. According to EPA, compliance with the rules will save industry $29 million in increased natural gas sales within a few months to a year after compliance. Although the rules do not directly regulate methane, they will indirectly reduce methane by approximately 3.4 million tons, a reduction of 26%. The rules also reduce VOCs by 25% (540,000 tons) and air toxics by 30% (38,000 tons).

Background Details

  • In response to a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance—two American West-based environmental organizations, the EPA committed to reviewing and updating Clean Air act regulations for the oil and natural gas production sector by July 28, 2011 and to finalize these updates by February 28, 2012.
  • The EPA’s proposed rule today updates four regulations. The first set is the “New Source Performance Standards,” which ensure that the latest technology is used to reduce any pollutants that endanger public health and welfare. Two standards related to the oil and gas industry were first promulgated in 1985 and only applied to natural gas processing plants. Today’s proposal updates the standard that reduces VOC emissions by adding requirements to control emissions from new and modified fracked and re-fracked wells, pneumatic controllers, condensate and crude oil storage tanks, compressors and leaks from equipment located at natural gas processing plants. EPA is also strengthening the standard that applies to sulfur dioxide emissions at natural gas processing plants.
  • The second set of regulations are called “Maximum Achievable Control Technology” (“MACT”) standards, which ensure that the most effective technology available is used to limit toxic air emissions, such as benzene. EPA’s proposal updates MACT standards that apply to sources in the Oil and Natural Gas Production source category as well as the Natural Gas Transmission and Storage category. Both MACT standards were first promulgated in 1999 and have not been updated since.
  • For sources in the Oil and Natural Gas Production source category, today’s proposal strengthens the MACT standard that applies to glycol dehydrators, condensate and crude oil tanks and leaks from valves located at natural gas processing plants. Specifically, the proposal requires that large glycol dehydrators must reduce air toxics by 95% and establishes emission limits for small glycol dehydrators located at major sources. Storage tanks must also reduce emissions by at least 95%. EPA proposed these new MACT standards after conducting a required residual risk review that indicated that toxic air emissions from sources subject to the current MACT standard posed an unacceptable cancer risk.
  • EPA is also strengthening standards that apply to large glycol dehydrators in the Natural Gas Transmission and Storage and establishing limits for small glycol dehydrators located at major sources.

Additional Resources

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