EPA Tells Oil and Gas Industry to Ignore its Request for Methane Emission Data

March 06, 2017

The EPA is withdrawing its request that owners and operators in the oil and natural gas industry provide information on equipment and emissions at existing oil and gas operations. The withdrawal is effective immediately, meaning owners and operators—including those who have received an extension to their due dates for providing the information—are no longer required to respond.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will assess the need for the information that the agency was collecting through these requests. This action also comes after the agency received a letter on March 1, 2017, from nine state Attorneys General and the Governors of Mississippi and Kentucky, expressing concern with the pending Information Collection Request for Oil and Gas Facilities.

“By taking this step, EPA is signaling that we take these concerns seriously and are committed to strengthening our partnership with the states,” said EPA Administrator Pruitt. “Today’s action will reduce burdens on businesses while we take a closer look at the need for additional information from this industry.”

Under the previous administration, EPA sent letters to more than 15,000 owners and operators in the oil and gas industry, requiring them to provide information. The information request comprised of two parts: an “operator survey” that asked for basic information on the numbers and types of equipment at all onshore oil and gas production facilities in the U.S., and a “facility survey” asking for more detailed information on sources of methane emissions and emission control devices or practices in use by a representative sampling of facilities in several segments of the oil and gas industry. EPA is withdrawing both parts of the information request.

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EPA to Rescind or Revise Waters of the United States Rule

President Trump issued an Executive Order at the White House, directing the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review and then rescind or revise the 2015 Clean Water Rule: Definition of “Waters of the United States.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt joined the President for this announcement and afterward issued the following statement: “EPA intends to immediately implement the Executive Order and submit a Notice to the Office of the Federal Register announcing our intent to review the 2015 Rule, and then to propose a new rule that will rescind or revise that rule. The President’s action today preserves a federal role in protecting water, but it also restores the states’ important role in the regulation of water.”

New iPad App Makes Oil and Gas Site Inspections More Efficient

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced another GO-TIME success with the launch of an iPad app for electronic field inspections at oil and gas production sites.

The app, developed in partnership with the Department of Transportation, enables DEP staff to conduct electronic inspections of all surface activities at oil and gas sites, including erosion and sedimentation, waterways encroachment, waste management, and spill cleanup. Until now, inspections have been performed with clipboards and paper forms.

“DEP staff bring great knowledge and dedication to serving the citizens and protecting the environment of Pennsylvania,” said DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “Much-needed technology upgrades, such as electronic inspections, will ensure we have systems in place to match our ambitions as we work to respond agilely to business needs and deliver the highest level of service and transparency to citizens, community organizations, and local governments.”

The app will make the inspection process more accurate and efficient, thanks to improved data quality, easier photo documentation, elimination of duplicate entry, electronic supervisor approval, and other features. The number of oil and gas field inspections that DEP staff can perform yearly will also increase.

Electronic inspections also mean citizens can see surface inspection results sooner, since results enter the DEP database and are posted on the O&G Oil and Gas mapping web site within days, rather than weeks.

All 46 oil and gas surface activities inspection staff will be using the app by the end of February.

DEP is also developing a similar app for its 32 oil and gas sub-surface activities inspectors. The app will be configured for other DEP programs, with the goal of equipping 350 inspectors by 2020, allowing the department to realize an estimated $3.6 million in productivity savings once implemented.

Electronic inspection supports the Governor’s Office of Transformation, Innovation, Management and Efficiency (GO-TIME), which works with state entities to modernize government operations in order to reduce costs and improve services. State agencies already saved over $156 million and Governor Wolf challenged GO-TIME to build upon this success by achieving $500 million in savings by 2020.

Children's Environmental Health Center 2017 Report Goes to California Legislature

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) announces the availability of a report to the Legislature and Governor on the Children’s Environmental Health Center. The Children’s Environmental Health Center was established in the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) by the Children’s Environmental Health Protection Act (Escutia, Chapter 731, Statutes of 1999) (the Act). The Center is responsible for ensuring that CalEPA’s programs specifically protect children’s health in California. This report to the Legislature and Governor highlights the recent activities of the Center, OEHHA and other CalEPA Boards and Departments to protect children, including:

  • Recent work to ensure that children are adequately protected from air toxics released from industrial facilities and other stationary sources
  • Adoption of new guidance values for chemicals that utilized state-of-the-art methods to account for child vulnerability
  • Creation of A Story of Health (in collaboration with other partners) to train physicians and other health providers to be aware of environmental pollutants that can harm children
  • Conducting symposia to train state scientists and academicians on children’s health issues, most recently the impact of climate change on children’s health
  • Publishing epidemiological studies on the public health impacts of climate change, in particular the impacts of heat on pregnancy and the health of the infant

Dollar General Construction Site Fined $55,297 for Stormwater Violations

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has reached a settlement with SimonCRE Raylan III, LLC, an Arizona-based developer, for alleged stormwater permit violations at its Dollar General construction project in Pioneer, Amador County. SimonCRE enrolled the Dollar General retail store project in the statewide General Permit for Storm Water Discharges Associated with Construction and Land Disturbance Activities, but failed to comply with the requirements to protect local water quality and the environment. SimonCRE agreed to pay $55,297 and to comply with the permit requirements to ensure that additional environmental damage is halted.

The settlement was reached using a streamlined process that provided SimonCRE an opportunity to quickly resolve the alleged violations that threatened a tributary to the Mokelumne River.

“We take these violations very seriously and we want construction sites across the Central Valley to know we are investigating complaints and taking action to stop further environmental damage,” said Andrew Altevogt, assistant executive officer for the Regional Water Board. “We initiated this fast track approach after SimonCRE or its contractors made a conscious decision not to comply with the basic requirements for the protection of surface waters from their construction activities.”

Water Board staff inspected the site on October 28, 2016, during a rain event. Staff found that SimonCRE had not installed sediment or erosion control measures (also known as best management practices or BMPs) and that sediment-laden runoff was flowing from the site to a tributary of the Mokelumne River. A second inspection on November 2, 2016, found that SimonCRE still had not installed appropriate BMPs. Although not directly observed by staff, it is likely that there were also sediment-laden discharges during rain events on October 27 and October 30.

Discharges of sediment can cloud the receiving water, which reduces the amount of sunlight reaching aquatic plants. These discharges can also clog fish gills, smother aquatic habitat and spawning areas, and transport other materials such as nutrients, metals, and oil and grease which can negatively impact aquatic life and aquatic habitat.

The owners of any construction site greater than one acre in size must enroll in the General Permit for Storm Water Discharges Associated with Construction and Land Disturbance Activities. Among other items, this permit requires that the owner hire a “storm water professional” to design and install an effective combination of erosion and sediment controls to prevent discharges of sediment-laden stormwater.

“This streamlined approach will allow us to take swift action against owners and their general contractors who attempt to gain an economic advantage by ignoring water quality protections,” said Altevogt.

Two New Hampshire Companies Failed to Disclose Lead Paint Information or Follow Lead-Safe Work Practices

EPA finalized a settlement agreement with two New Hampshire companies for their alleged failure to follow lead-safe work practices and provide proper lead paint disclosure to tenants at a residential property in Manchester, New Hampshire. The agreement ensures that Brady Sullivan Millworks II, LLC, and Brady Sullivan Millworks IV, LLC, (Brady Sullivan) of Manchester, New Hampshire will comply with federal rules ensuring lead-safe work practices and proper disclosure of information pertaining to lead paint, thus protecting the health of building occupants.

Under the terms of the agreement, Brady Sullivan will pay a penalty of $90,461 for its violations of the federal Real Estate Notification and Disclosure (Disclosure) and Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rules and will certify that it is currently in compliance with these Rules. These violations occurred at a four-story, historical mill building known as "The Lofts at Mill West" or "Mill West" located at 195 McGregor Street in Manchester.

In May 2015, EPA performed a series of inspections at 195 McGregor Street following the referral of a complaint about lead dust in the building resulting from sandblasting occurring on a lower, unoccupied floor received by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (NH DHHS). During the inspections, EPA observed dust and chipping paint throughout the interior common areas of the building (areas to which tenants continued to have access during renovation activities). At the time of the inspections, building residents included vulnerable populations like children and at least one pregnant woman. As part of the joint EPA and NH investigations, NH DHHS conducted dust-wipe sampling which confirmed levels of lead in the dust and in paint chips well above acceptable health-protective standards. Additional testing showed that there were dust-containing levels of lead above the regulatory limit in numerous residential units on the third and fourth floors of the McGregor Street building. These inspections were part of an initiative by EPA to focus attention on high-risk communities with the goal of reducing lead poisoning through education and compliance with federal lead laws.

The City of Manchester ordered a halt to sandblasting activities on May 11, 2015, because the subcontractor, Environmental Compliance Specialists, Inc. (ECSI), had not obtained the required permit from the City. On June 19, 2015, EPA issued a unilateral order to Brady Sullivan to clean up lead dust and chipping lead paint on the third and fourth floors of the building and in common areas throughout the property. EPA closely monitored these cleanup activities and expects a final cleanup report and certification from Brady Sullivan shortly.

In August and September of 2016, EPA issued complaints against both Brady Sullivan and ECSI citing them for numerous federal lead paint violations. While this settlement resolves EPA's action against Brady Sullivan, EPA's action against ECSI is ongoing. ECSI filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in late 2016.

Lead poisoning of infants and children can cause lowered intelligence, reading and learning disabilities, impaired hearing, reduced attention span, hyperactivity, and behavior problems. Adults with high lead levels can suffer difficulties during pregnancy, high blood pressure, nerve disorders, memory problems, and muscle and joint pain.

EPA's RRP Rule is designed to prevent children's exposure to lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazards resulting from renovation, repair and painting projects in pre-1978 residences, schools and other buildings where children are present. If lead painted surfaces are to be disturbed at a job site, the Rule requires individual renovators to complete an initial 8-hour accredited training course and the company or firm that they work for to be certified by EPA. These baseline requirements are critical to ensuring that companies take responsibility for their employees by following proper lead safe work practices including containing and managing lead dust and chips created during such projects. Further, the Rule requires that specific records be created and maintained in order to document compliance with the law.

The purpose of the Disclosure Rule is to ensure that prospective tenants have enough information about lead-based paint in general and known lead-based paint hazards in specific housing to make an informed decision about whether to lease a particular property. The Disclosure Rule requires owners/managers of rental properties to provide prospective renters both with general information about lead-based paint risks and to provide specific information on whether or not there is known lead-based paint in a rental unit prior to the individual signing a lease. By fully disclosing the required information, individuals can make an informed decision about whether to lease a particular property.

EPA's Lead Paint Tip and Complaint Phone Line is at 617-918-TIPS [8477].

WPX Energy Assessed $1.2 Million Civil Penalty for Groundwater and Water Supply Impacts

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced that WPX Energy Appalachia (WPX) has agreed to a $1.2 million civil penalty for oil and gas violations that affected groundwater and private water supplies.

In September 2012, testing of five private water supplies indicated that they were impacted by a leak from an on-site impoundment into the groundwater at the Kalp wellsite in Donegal Township, Westmoreland County. The impoundment was drained within a week of the leak being discovered. Affected households were provided bottled water and treatment systems have been installed. DEP is regularly evaluating those systems to ensure they are providing safe drinking water.

Marking the culmination of an investigation by DEP, the $1.2 million penalty has been paid to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Well Plugging Fund and is based on the impacts to the water supplies and the severity of the leak.

In addition to the civil penalty, WPX is required to conclude the investigation into the extent of the impacts and remediate the site in accordance with Pennsylvania’s Land Recycling and Environmental Remediation Standards Act. This will include remediation of the soil, groundwater, and any surface waters impacted by the leak.

“One of DEP’s top priorities is to ensure that natural gas development does not have a detrimental impact on water resources in Pennsylvania,” said Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “When leaks and other impacts do occur, the responsible party must remediate the damage and restore the resource.”

Ohio EPA Introduces General Permits for Compressor Stations

Continuing to advance a strong record of achievement in protecting the environment and streamlining the state’s permitting process, Ohio EPA is now accepting general permit applications for oil and natural gas mid-stream compressor stations.

Previously, air emissions from these common pieces of equipment were subject to the longer case-by-case permit process. By contrast, applications for general permits follow a template. These general permits allow the Agency to ensure it protects the environment while freeing up valuable staff resources to work on other complex permit issues.

General permit applicants are required to demonstrate that the equipment qualifies for a general permit, and agree to meet pre-defined permit terms including installation and/or operating requirements, monitoring, record-keeping and reporting. All of these general permits require the installation of state-of-the-art equipment or methods to control air emissions that meet or exceed federal standards. Among the common pieces of equipment that now qualify for general permits:

  • Natural gas-fired spark ignition compressor engines (five lean burn size choices, five rich burn choices)
  • Diesel engines (two size choices)
  • Dehydrators (two size choices)
  • Flares (one open flare, two enclosed)
  • Compressors
  • Equipment (pipes, valves, flanges, pumps, etc.) that has the potential to leak
  • Liquid storage tanks
  • Truck loading operations
  • Pigging operations

In recent years, Ohio has seen a large increase in the number of compressor stations due to the expansion of the oil & gas industry in eastern Ohio. General permits are an effective means to track and regulate air emissions and can be more efficient and timely for processing. Prior to establishing these general permits as an option, in 2016 Ohio EPA conducted an extensive draft and review process, accepting comments from interested parties and the public at large.

The new general permits and comments received from the public may reviewed online at: http://epa.ohio.gov/dapc/genpermit/ngcs.aspx.

Colorado Health Department Report Reviews Existing Science on Oil and Gas Health Effects

A report released last week by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment concludes the risk of harmful health effects is low for Coloradans living near oil and gas operations. The report calls for more study, rather than immediate public health action.

“Assessment of Potential Public Health Effects from Oil and Gas Extraction in Colorado” examines the health risks from certain substances emitted from oil and gas operations and reviews other studies of health effects possibly associated with living near oil and gas operations. The Colorado Oil and Gas Task Force in 2015 recommended the study.

“This report evaluates the existing science about whether you’re at risk if you live near oil and gas operations,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer at the department. “Going forward, we will continue to evaluate health risks using more comprehensive, relevant data currently being collected.”

The health risk portion of the study combined more than 10,000 air quality samples to evaluate how 62 substances in those samples compare to an identified “safe” level for human exposure. The report concludes:

The concentrations of a small number of substances (benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde) in the air surrounding oil and gas operations are four to five times lower than standard health limits set for short- and long-term exposure.

  • The concentrations of the other substances are five to 10,000 times lower than the standard health limits set for short- and long-term exposure.
  • Cancer risks for all substances are within the “acceptable risk” range established by the EPA.
  • Overall, the current assessment suggests the risk of harmful health effects is low for residents living at distances 500 feet or more from oil and gas operations.

The report also reviewed 12 previous epidemiological studies that looked at potential health effects from living near oil and gas operations. Overall, the review concluded that studies of populations living near oil and gas operations provide limited evidence of the possibility for harmful health effects, which needs to be confirmed or disputed with higher-quality studies. The authors also developed evidence statements for each of the 27 health effects in these studies and found:

  • No substantial or moderate evidence for any health effects.
  • Limited evidence for two health effects: self-reported skin symptoms and exacerbation of asthma. Limited evidence means modest scientific findings that support an association, but there are significant limitations.
  • Mixed evidence for 11 health effects, including four different birth outcomes; hematological childhood cancers; hospitalizations for cancer, migraines, self-reported respiratory symptoms and musculoskeletal symptoms; and hospitalizations for neurological and hematological/immune diseases. Mixed evidence means there are findings that both support and oppose an association between the exposure and the outcome, with neither direction dominating.
  • A lack of evidence for three health effects, including respiratory hospitalizations and self-reported psychological symptoms and gastrointestinal symptoms. A lack of evidence means that the outcome has been researched without evidence of an association.
  • Insufficient evidence for 11 health effects, including three different birth defects; self-reported neurological symptoms; self-reported cardiovascular symptoms; overall childhood cancer incidence; childhood central nervous system tumors; and hospitalizations for psychological, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal symptoms. Insufficient evidence means that the outcome has not been adequately studied.

This report looked at existing data. The state health department currently is conducting a health-risk assessment specific to oil and gas emissions, using newly released data from Colorado State University. That study will be completed in 2018.

Coloradans who have health concerns about oil and gas operations can contact the Oil and Gas Health Information and Response Program at 303-389-1687.

New Jersey Water Quality Is Improving

A benchmark study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and commissioned by the Department of Environmental Protection and Delaware River Basin Commission shows that levels of algae-causing nutrients in waterways are largely declining or holding steady, a positive sign for water quality in New Jersey, Commissioner Bob Martin announced recently.

“Modernization of wastewater treatment plants, steps to better manage stormwater at the local level, decades of good work by the DEP, and tough laws protecting rivers and streams and ecologically sensitive areas along them are resulting in healthier waterways that enhance our quality of life in New Jersey,” Commissioner Martin said. “This report represents the most comprehensive analysis ever of nutrient trends in New Jersey and provides a valuable platform for developing management strategies that will even further improve water quality.”

The DEP commissioned the USGS to analyze data from 28 monitoring stations for long-term trends in levels of nitrogen and phosphorous present in waterways. In all, the USGS analyzed more than 82,000 data points collected over a 41-year period from a variety of urban, suburban, agricultural and protected areas.

“The U.S. Geological Survey and the DEP have a longstanding and productive partnership, one that is very unique,” said Bob Hirsch, a USGS scientist who co-authored the report. “Both agencies fully appreciate the importance residents in the nation’s most densely populated state place on water quality. With this comprehensive data set and newer statistical methods, we were able to provide our most detailed assessment yet of nutrient trends in the state.”

While phosphorous and nitrogen are naturally occurring and necessary for aquatic systems, excessive levels degrade water quality by exacerbating algae growth, which affects habitat for fish and other aquatic wildlife and can cause taste and odor issues in treated drinking water supplies. Excessive algal blooms also diminish recreational enjoyment of waterways. The most common sources of excessive nutrients to waterways are discharges from wastewater treatment plants; runoff containing residential and agricultural fertilizers, as well as animal wastes; and outdated or improperly functioning septic systems.

At 25 of the 28 study sites, concentrations of phosphorous and all forms of nitrogen decreased or did not change significantly. An upward trend in phosphorous levels was observed at a station at the West Branch of the Wading River in Woodland Township, Burlington County. Nitrogen levels increased at just two stations, one at the Toms River in Toms River, Ocean County, and the other at the Cohansey River in Upper Deerfield, Cumberland County. The results of the study will enable the DEP to conduct more comprehensive research into factors behind these changes.

The study found that water quality improvements took hold in the 1980s into the 1990s as wastewater treatment plants were modernized, in many cases regional plants replacing small local plants. During the same period, the state also ratcheted up its efforts to better manage stormwater through its municipal stormwater permitting program.

This program requires local governments to implement stormwater control standards and best management practices for development projects, protect watersheds through steps such as animal waste ordinances, educate the public on impacts of stormwater, and take other steps to mitigate the impacts of stormwater runoff.

Over the years, the state has implemented rigorous standards for industrial and wastewater discharges, known as point sources, and is implementing innovative programs to address combined sewage-stormwater discharges in urban areas with antiquated infrastructure.

However, stormwater runoff pollution, also called nonpoint source pollution, is more difficult to address because of its widespread nature.

“Today, stormwater pollution remains our biggest water quality challenge,” said Dan Kennedy, DEP’s Assistant Commissioner for Water Resource Management. “The numbers from this study are very encouraging, showing us that we are making progress. But we also recognize that more works needs to be done, and that every homeowner and business owner can make a difference by making wise decisions regarding the use of fertilizers on lawns and in landscaping.”

In 2011, Governor Christie signed into law one of the nation’s toughest fertilizer laws. Now fully phased in, the law requires applicators to utilize best management practices when they apply fertilizers near waterways, requires certifications for professional applicators and lawn-care providers, and requires manufacturers to reformulate fertilizers to reduce the impacts of phosphorous and nitrogen on waterways.

The statewide fertilizer law was a product of the Christie Administration’s comprehensive strategy to address water quality in the highly populated and ecologically sensitive Barnegat Bay watershed. This effort includes making tens of millions of dollars available to local governments for improved stormwater infrastructure, extensive scientific research on indicators of bay health, and an extensive public awareness effort that includes periodic watershed-wide volunteer trash cleanups.

The USGS launched its nutrient evaluation in 2012, reviewing data collected between 1971 and 2011 from the state’s Ambient Surface-Water Quality Monitoring Network, which today includes 73 fixed locations. The compilation of the final report entailed extensive data analysis with state-of-the-art statistical methods. The USGS selected monitoring stations that had the longest available data sets. The sampling points included were among the first established as part of the monitoring network.

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Trivia Question of the Week

What part of the U.S. had more snow in one night (February 28, 2017) than Chicago and Denver had all year?

a. Mauna Kea, Hawaii

b. Sitka, Alaska

c. Portland, Oregon

d. Roswell, New Mexico

Answer