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EPA strikes deal to update oil and gas air rules

BY: ALEX GUILLÉN | 01/23/2023 10:12 AM EST

EPA has reached a tentative legal agreement with environmental groups to review and potentially update hazardous air pollution rules for oil and gas producers over the coming three years.

The rules, which also apply to natural gas transmission and storage facilities, are supposed to be reviewed and updated if needed every eight years, but the previous update by EPA was more than 10 years ago. It sets limits for pollutants such as benzene, which is a carcinogen, as well as volatile organic compounds, which can form ground-level ozone and contribute to smog. Tens of millions of people live in close proximity to oil and gas sources in the U.S.

Details: Almost 3,000 oil and gas production facilities are regulated under this rule, including 580 major sources, according to the lawsuit brought last year by California Communities Against Toxics, Coalition for a Safe Environment and the Sierra Club. It also covers more than 100 gas transmission and storage facilities, including 72 major sources.

Under the terms of the proposed consent decree to be published in Tuesday’s Federal Register, EPA would have until Dec. 10, 2024, to propose action and until Dec. 10, 2025, to finalize any rulemaking.

EPA agreed to act more quickly on one specific legal issue in the rule — the inclusion of an “affirmative defense” provision against civil penalties for excess pollution emitted during equipment malfunctions. The environmental groups had petitioned EPA in 2012 over the affirmative defense provision, and EPA in recent years has been working to remove similar provisions from a host of air regulations. EPA agreed to propose action on the affirmative defense issue by Feb. 12, 2024, with final action following by Dec. 10, 2024.

What’s next: The proposed consent decree will be open for public comment through Feb. 23.

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