Earthworks comments at EPA’s fracking air pollution public hearing in Denver
By Bruce Baizel
September 28, 2011
NOTE: these comments were submitted before the EPA public hearing on hydraulic fracturing air pollution regulation in Denver on September 28th
My name is Bruce Baizel. I am Staff Attorney for Earthworks, a nonprofit organization that works with communities to reduce the impacts from mining and energy extraction. Our organization has worked on oil and gas issues for more than two decades and specifically on the issue of hydraulic fracturing for more than a decade.
I appreciate the opportunity to provide oral comment to you this morning. We have thousands of members throughout the Rocky Mountain states, in Texas and in the Marcellus shale region.
Many of our members are impacted by the currently unregulated emissions from oil and gas operations throughout those states.
So this proposed regulation providing a new source performance standard for Volatile Organic Compounds; a new source performance standard for sulfur dioxide; an air toxics standard for oil and natural gas production; and an air toxics standard for natural gas transmission and storage is of great importance to our members.
Overall, we strongly support the draft rule as a significant first step in addressing emissions from upstream oil and gas operations.
Generally, we believe that the rule will lead to greater transparency from this powerful industry in the form of accounting for the numerous sources of emissions that are currently 'invisible' due to the lack of regulation. We also believe that the rule will provide health benefits to those who live close to the thousands of gas facilities covered by this rule. And we believe that the rule will provide an economic benefit to this industry, through the capture of additional 'product' that can be sold in the marketplace.
We are confident that an industry which has figured out horizontal drilling techniques, and the thousands of versions of hydraulic fracturing chemical 'cocktails' which have unlocked access to shale gas, will also be able to find a way to comply with this rule while remaining highly profitable.
Specific to Colorado, we have three reasons for supporting this rule.
- First, here on the Front Range, in the San Juan basin and in other areas of the Rockies, emissions from gas wells and related facilities are a significant contributor to our ozone and smog issues. This rule would help to address that issue through a reduction in VOCs.
- Second, during one of our recent state rulemakings here in Colorado, it became evident that emissions, often showing up in the form of 'odor' complaints, were a significant irritant for those living with natural gas drilling operations nearby. We believe that this rule would help to reduce that impact.
- Third, while industry has not been forthcoming with monitoring and analysis of emissions coming off of their drilling operations, agencies and academic researchers sampling around centralized flowback waste impoundments have found numerous volatile organic chemicals returning to the surface, sometimes in high concentrations. We believe that this rule would help to reduce these potentially harmful emissions.
Finally, and consistent with the recommendations of the Department of Energy's Natural Gas Subcommittee, we also believe that the final rule should be expanded to include the thousands of existing wells and facilities, which already constitute a significant source of emissions, and resulting impacts to people living, working or going to school nearby.
For example, in La Plata County, we have a natural gas well and its associated dehydrator tank sited less than 200 feet from an elementary school. An initial one-time fenceline grab sample from a visible 'plume' coming off the well site and towards the school showed the presence of significant levels of a known cancer-causing chemical. Two sampling efforts later – one by industry and one by the school district – and the discussion has lost track of the real goal – protecting our children from preventable unhealthy emissions – and fallen in to an argument over sampling protocols.
And, there are more than 200 of these similar types of facilities in La Plata County alone. This illustrates why we need this rule to cover existing, as well as new, oil and gas facilities.
For all of these reasons, we urge the EPA to adopt the strongest possible rule governing these oil and gas emission sources in early 2012.
I thank you for holding these hearings, and for your attention.
For more information:
- Earthworks fact sheet: EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Air Pollution Rule