Thursday, April 26, 2007

EPA Rewards Big Oil

Giving a gift to the oil industry, the EPA has changed the manner in which production facility air pollution is to be calculated.  Putting form over substance, emissions amounts will be kept separate for facilities physically distant but corporately connected.  PEER has more.

PEER link

Washington, DC -- In a major victory for the oil industry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has adopted looser air pollution limits for sprawling petroleum production and exploration operations, according to an agency order released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, petroleum facilities will be allowed to emit additional tons of hydrocarbons each day.

At issue is a regulatory rule called "aggregation" which prevents polluters from avoiding air pollution permit limits by breaking their operations down into smaller units, each with its own pollution cap.

The EPA has denied a petition filed, in part, by PEER, that requested witdrawal of a permit previously issued for a large BP facility.  EPA determined the facility to be a stand-alone unit, a result contrary  to existing agency guidelines.  Now, the old guidelines have been changed to support this outcome.

In an action that presaged its decision on the PEER petition, on January 12, 2007, EPA issued new national guidance that forbade applying aggregation principles to reduce pollution at oil facilities that are physically separated even though operationally linked. Oil and gas developments typically consist of many pieces of equipment, sometimes thousands in big developments, often connected by pipelines. This new guidance means that oil companies can treat equipment clusters as separate facilities, each with its own pollution allowances. The guidance directive was signed by William Wehrum, whose nomination to be EPA Assistant Administrator for Air was recently withdrawn by President Bush.

As to the volume of production at the North Slope, it would be difficult to overstate the impact.

"The North Slope currently produces as much as a fifth of the nation's oil supply, so the volume of pollution released is immense," stated Bill MacClarence, who had protested the permit both when he served as the supervisor of its air permit program for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and after he retired. "North Slope oil operations are already emitting as much nitrogen oxides as the entire Washington, DC metropolitan area and it is going to get a lot worse."

Left unsaid is the impact nationwide.


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