EPA Reverses Bush-era Rollbacks: Rules Pollution from Oil and Gas Operations Must be Aggregated and Assessed Cumulatively, Rejects State of Colorado-Issued Air Permit
For Immediate Release:
October 14, 2009
For More Information Contact:
Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 573-4898 x 1303, cell (303) 437-7663.
Denver—In response to a petition filed by WildEarth Guardians challenging an air pollution permit issued by the State of Colorado, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a landmark ruling that oil and gas operations must be held to aggregation safeguards under the Clean Air Act, reversing a Bush-era rollback and promising greater protection of public health and the environment throughout the American West.
“This ruling is clear: the oil and gas industry doesn’t get a free pass to pollute,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “This is a major victory for clean air and public health.”
Under the Clean Air Act, connected sources of air pollution must be aggregated together when determining what constitutes a single source for permitting purposes. Aggregation is a standard requirement that ensures connected sources of air pollution are not arbitrarily broken down into smaller sources and ensures that polluters secure permits that meet stringent emission control requirements under the Clean Air Act.
Oil and gas operations consist of hundreds to thousands of polluting pieces of equipment including drill rigs, compressor engines, and leaking pipelines and tanks. Collectively, this pollution adds up. In the Denver metropolitan area for example, state inventories show that oil and gas operations in the Wattenberg gas field of Weld County release more smog forming compounds than all the cars and trucks in the region.
Colorado, as well as other Western states, have failed to aggregate oil and gas operations under the Clean Air Act. This has led states to ignore the cumulative pollution from oil and gas wells when issuing permits. This refusal to aggregate was upheld by a 2007 memo issued by a Bush Administration political appointee within the EPA, which exempted the oil and gas industry from aggregation safeguards. The failure to aggregate has led to numerous air quality problems in West, including unhealthy ground-level ozone levels in oil and gas producing regions of Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.
“The failure to aggregate is the root of many of the West’s air pollution problems,” said Nichols. “By ignoring the pollution impacts of individual oil and gas wells, states have turned their backs on the cumulative impacts of oil and gas drilling. Sadly, this was not only condoned, but encouraged by the Bush Administration.”
In 2008, WildEarth Guardians challenged the failure of Colorado to aggregate oil and gas operations under the Clean Air Act and challenged the 2007 Bush Administration memo. In a petition filed with the Administrator of the EPA, WildEarth Guardians attacked the failure of Colorado to aggregate connected oil and gas wells with the Frederick natural gas compressor station, a massive compressor station owned by Kerr-McGee, a subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum in Weld County north of Denver, before issuing an operating permit under the Clean Air Act.
The EPA agreed on both counts. On September 22, 2009, the agency reversed the 2007 Bush Administration memo, holding that oil and gas operations must be subject to aggregation safeguards under the Clean Air Act like any other industry. And on October 8, 2009, the EPA Administrator upheld WildEarth Guardians’ petition, overturning the permit issued by Colorado for the operation of the Frederick natural gas compressor station. The EPA ruled, “I grant the Petitioner’s request for an objection to the permit on the issue of CDPHE’s failure to provide an adequate basis in the permit record for its determination of the source” under the Clean Air Act.
The EPA further recommended that Colorado undertake a never-before done assessment of the oil and gas operations connected to the Frederick natural gas compressor station, including:
* An evaluation of Kerr-McGee/Anadarko’s complete system, including all pollution emitting activities, in the Wattenberg gas field north of Denver;
* A determination of whether the pollutant emitting activities that are a part of the system are contiguous or adjacent to, and under common control with the Frederick natural gas compressor station; and
* An assessment of the flow of natural gas within the Wattenberg gas field to determine whether facilities are interrelated with the Frederick natural gas compressor station.
According to Kerr-McGee/Anadarko, the company owns and operates more than 3,600 gas wells north of Denver in the Wattenberg gas field, many of which are connected to the Frederick natural gas compressor station. Data from Colorado indicates that each well annually may release 2.2 tons of volatile organic compounds individually and more than 7,000 tons of volatile organic compounds together. The ruling promises to ensure that these sources and pollution are aggregated with the Frederick natural gas compressor station to determine whether Kerr-McGee/Anadarko should be held to more stringent emission limits.
If aggregated, Kerr-McGee/Anadarko would likely be required to install the best available pollution controls at its oil and gas wells. With available controls, emissions could be reduced by as much as 95% or more.
“This is great news. Never before has the EPA set the bar this high,” said Nichols. “This all but ensures that states throughout the U.S. will be finally forced to hold the oil and gas industry accountable to aggregation safeguards, ensuring lasting protection of clean air and public health.”Under the Clean Air Act, the State of Colorado has 90 days to respond to the EPA's ruling.
The EPA's ruling can be downloaded at http://www.epa.gov/region7/programs/artd/air/title5/petitiondb/petitions/anadarko_response2008.pdf.
WildEarth Guardians’ petition can be downloaded at http://www.epa.gov/region7/programs/artd/air/title5/petitiondb/petitions/anadarko_petition2008.pdf.
The EPA’s reversal of the Bush-era memo can be downloaded at http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/contentStreamer?objectId=0900006480a3309c&disposition=attachment&contentType=pdf.