Bill targets oil, gas industry emissions

An air quality advocate is praising a bill by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., that would eliminate what the congressman says are two oil and gas industry exemptions to the Clean Air Act.

But an industry representative says Polis is trying to fix something that’s not broken.

Polis recently joined Reps. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and Rush Holt, D-N.J., in introducing the BREATHE Act. They say it is companion legislation to the FRAC Act, which they also are backing. The FRAC Act would regulate the industry’s practice of hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act and require public disclosure of the substances used in the process.

The congressmen say oil and gas companies are exempted from having the emissions from their various operations — which include compressor stations, condensate tanks and drilling rigs — being lumped together, or aggregated, as major air pollution sources under the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants. Aggregation would prevent the combined pollution from being evaluated as separate, smaller emissions sources as a way of avoiding stricter pollution controls.

Polis said in a statement, “The sheer number of wells has grown exponentially in recent years, and this growth correlates directly to an impact on regional air quality and resident health in areas of active drilling. Surely, we wouldn’t assume that as long as one car meets emissions standards, 20,000 cars wouldn’t affect air quality. Unfortunately, this exact false logic is currently being applied to oil and gas drilling, and it’s causing noticeable health impacts.”

The BREATHE Act eliminates the aggregation exemption, as well as a second one exempting hydrogen sulfide from the Clean Air Act’s list of hazardous air pollutants. Hydrogen sulfide is a toxic gas emitted during some oil and gas production.

Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said the legislation “targets a very narrow exemption under the Clean Air Act and works to ensure the oil and gas industry is held to the same standards as every other industry when it comes to keeping people safe from toxic air pollution.”

But David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said the legislation is trying to close a loophole that doesn’t exist. He said the Environmental Protection Agency and states evaluate emissions for aggregate pollution effect based on whether they fall into a single major industrial grouping, are located on contiguous or adjacent properties, and are under common ownership and control.

“This bill is significant, for it removes common-sense determinations for sources and replaces it with a one-size-fits-all, Washington D.C. approach without allowing the states’ regulative bodies to accurately permit sources,” he said.

Nichols said the aggregation exemption applies to specific hazardous pollutants such as benzene, a volatile organic compound and carcinogen. The aggregation rule still can be applied to volatile organic compounds as a group, as is done to reduce their role as a contributor to ozone formation. Aggregation can lead to some restrictions for volatile organic compound emissions, which   might help reduce benzene levels, but not to the same level as targeted benzene limits would, he said.

“It’s kind of a technicality, but it has major implications,” he said.

The congressmen say oil and gas operations are exempted from being aggregated as major air pollution sources under the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants. These operations can include facilities such as compressor stations, condensate tanks and drill rigs. Aggregation prevents connected sources of pollution from being broken down into smaller sources to avoid stricter pollution controls.

The congressmen say oil and gas operations are exempted from having the emissions from their various operations — which include compressor stations, condensate tanks and drilling rigs — being lumped together, or aggregated, as major air pollution sources under the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants. Aggregation would prevent the combined pollution from being evaluated as separate, smaller emissions sources as a way of avoiding stricter pollution controls.


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