The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed amendments of its methane and volatile organic compound, or VOC, standards for the oil and gas industry were published in the Federal Register on Oct. 15, triggering a public comment period that will end on Dec. 17.
In this rulemaking action, the EPA seeks comments on proposed amendments of the 2016 New Source Performance Standards Subpart OOOOa requirements, including the fugitive emissions, well site pneumatic pump and professional engineer certification requirements, among other proposed clarifying and streamlining changes.
EPA represents these proposed amendments as a “targeted improvements package” that will “significantly decrease unnecessary burdens” on domestic energy producers and save up to approximately $75 million in compliance costs annually. Some of the proposed amendments would:
• Modify the schedule for fugitive emissions monitoring and repairs at well sites and compressor stations in various ways, including:
o Reducing the required frequency of fugitive emissions monitoring at these locations; and
o Extending the period for completion of repairs to 60 days after fugitive emissions are detected rather than 30 days, but requiring that a “first attempt at repair” be made within 30 days after fugitive emissions are detected.
• Recognize that some state fugitive emissions programs are equivalent, including the Texas leak detection and repair program for well sites, although owners and operators would be required to give the EPA 90 days prior notification of their intent to rely on such a state standard. The EPA also proposed to recognize the equivalency of the California, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah fugitive emissions standards programs for either well sites or compressor stations, or in some cases both. The EPA’s state program equivalency analyses are available in the agency’s Memorandum dated April 12.
• Clarify that:
o A “modification” of a well site for purposes of the fugitive emissions requirements includes removal of all major production and processing equipment from the site, triggering fugitive emissions monitoring at the tank battery to which that well produces, but also allowing monitoring at the wellhead to cease once that equipment is removed.
o Although the definition of “well site” includes injection wells, a salt water disposal well – such as a Class II oilfield wastewater disposal well – is not considered a well site for purposes of the fugitive emissions requirements.
o A separator used for well completions does not have to be located on-site at the well site. An operator may instead utilize a separator located at a centralized facility if it is available for use during well completion at the well site.
o For purposes of storage vessel VOC emissions determinations, when calculating the “maximum average daily throughput,” production to a single storage vessel must be averaged over the number of days production was actually sent to the storage vessel during the 30-day determination period.
• Allow an in-house engineer with appropriate expertise, as opposed to only a licensed professional engineer, to make the required certifications for closed vent system design and operation and for the technical infeasibility determinations that justify the exemption of certain pneumatic pumps from the well site pneumatic pump requirements.
• Allow an owner or operator – or, in recognition of emerging technologies, a manufacturer, vendor or trade association together with an owner or operator – to apply for an alternative means of emissions limitations as a substitute for the NSPS Subpart OOOOa work practice standards for multiple sites (not only on a site-by-site basis), although requiring that site-specific information be submitted with the application.
• Require certain records to support the VOC emissions determination for all storage vessels, not just those determined to be affected facilities under NSPS Subpart OOOOa.
Notably, the EPA expressed ongoing concerns in this rulemaking action about the compliance of storage vessels with NSPS Subpart OOOOa. First, the agency stated its concern about uncontrolled emissions from tank thief hatches and pressure relief valves due to inappropriately sized or inadequately designed closed vent systems. Second, it expressed surprise about the low number of storage vessels that operators have determined to be affected facilities under NSPS Subpart OOOOa. The EPA reiterated the requirement that the VOC emissions calculations for storage vessel affected facility determinations must be made on a per-storage-vessel basis – for example, averaging of total potential VOC emissions across storage vessels is only appropriate when certain operational configurations are utilized.
Again, comments on the proposed amendments are due by Dec. 17. The EPA will also host a public hearing on Nov. 14 at 8 a.m. Mountain Standard Time at EPA Region 8 Offices in Denver at 1595 Wynkoop Street.
If you have questions about this rulemaking or how these proposed amendments may affect your operations, or would like assistance preparing comments on EPA’s proposed rules, please contact one of the Thompson & Knight attorneys with whom you regularly work or one of the authors of this article.
James C. Morriss III serves as Thompson & Knight’s Austin Office Leader. He focuses his practice on environmental permitting; compliance counseling; facility siting, including wetlands and endangered species work; legislative lobbying; and administrative and judicial litigation before local, state, and federal environmental agencies and state and federal courts.
Ashley T. K. Phillips is a partner in Austin and focuses her practice on environmental regulatory matters. Her experience includes compliance counseling; environmental management system development; environmental, health, and safety auditing; environmental risk assessment; environmental due diligence; advising on environmental matters in corporate and commercial transactions; handling administrative enforcement actions; and working with private and governmental (including federal, state, and local) entities to develop and implement collaborative environmental solutions.
Leslie Reynolds is an associate in Austin. She focuses her practice on government, regulatory, and environmental matters.