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Agency to Sign Proposed Rules Pursuant to 2010 Settlement Agreement
Mike Eisenfeld, San Juan Citizens Alliance New Mexico Energy Coordinator, (505) 325-6724
Michael Freeman, Earthjustice, (720) 989-6896
Denver—Public health nationwide stands to get a major boost this week as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is slated to propose by tomorrow, July 28th, comprehensive updates to federal limits on air pollution from oil and gas drilling.
The expected proposal promises to target toxic air pollution, ensure cost-effective clean air technologies are used throughout the oil and gas industry, and strengthen a critical safety net for public health. The proposal was spurred by a settlement agreement reached with WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance, in a lawsuit where they were represented by the public interest law firm Earthjustice. The settlement requires the EPA to follow through with its duties under the Clean Air Act to keep air quality regulations up-to-date.
It is expected that comprehensive updates to current clean air rules will be proposed. Current regulations are woefully outdated, with some not updated since 1985, and fail to adequately protect public health and welfare. In a 2010 presentation, the EPA pointed to a number of reasons to strengthen the current rules, including:
The EPA noted that of the 24 significant emission sources associated with oil and gas production, only six are covered by the current rules.
It is expected that the proposed rules will focus on volatile organic compound, or VOC, emissions, a toxic group of compounds that form smog and prioritize mobilizing the most cost-effective emission controls. In many cases, compliance will actually save industry money because reducing VOC emissions by stopping leaks and other fugitive emissions will result in recovering more natural gas and oil.
The proposal comes as oil and gas drilling is in many cases taking a tremendous toll on air quality. A recent New York Times video highlights these impacts.
In western Colorado’s Garfield County for example, oil and gas drilling has increased by more than 132 percent since 2004, brining more than 7,000 new wells to the region. According to the state of Colorado emission inventory data, oil and gas operations in the County are responsible for more than 67% percent of all benzene emissions—a known carcinogen. Studies by the state show that Garfield County residents face higher health risks because of this, in some cases facing an “unacceptable” cancer risk. Unfortunately, current federal regulations fail to limit benzene and other toxic emissions from oil and gas operations in order to protect public health.
Nationwide, the proposal will be the first step
toward protecting communities in a number of states with oil and gas drilling
including California, New York, Pennsylvania, Alaska, and Texas. Because state air quality regulations
must at least be as stringent as federal regulations, the final rules will
ultimately provide a critical important safety net for public health.