As part of the Obama Administration’s on-going commitment to a cleaner, more secure energy future, Janice Schneider, Assistant Secretary, Land and Minerals Management and Abigail Ross Hopper, Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), today announced proposed updated air quality regulations that will more accurately account for emissions from offshore oil and gas activity, effectively ensuring that those activities do not significantly harm the air quality of any state.
The proposal updates 36-year-old regulations and incorporates BOEM’s recent Arctic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) jurisdiction over air quality. Together, the proposed changes will reduce emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), Sulfur Oxide (SOx), Carbon Monoxide (CO), and Particulate Matter (PM).
“This proposal takes a balanced approach to modernize BOEM’s regulations and ensure compliance with today’s air quality standards” said Assistant Secretary Schneider. “These proposed improvements will minimize harm to human health and the environment from oil and gas activities.” BOEM regulates air quality emissions from oil and gas activity on areas of the OCS as a part of its review of exploration and development plans, and right-of-use and right-of-way applications in federal waters of the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic. Congress recently added the latter to BOEM’s jurisdiction. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates air emissions on the remaining OCS as part of its permitting process under the Clean Air Act.
The proposed rule would modernize and strengthen requirements for identifying, modeling, measuring and tracking the emissions of air pollutants, while retaining key aspects of the current plan approval process for offshore oil and gas exploration and development activity. The improvements will better ensure BOEM approves plans that do not significantly affect the air quality of any state, giving coastal communities and stakeholders greater confidence regarding expected air quality impacts from OCS activity. These changes will also give the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement better tools to assess air quality compliance for OCS operations.
“Informed by our longstanding relationship with operators, this proposal incorporates key aspects of today’s practices into our regulations, while also bringing our regulations up to speed with the best available science,” Director Hopper said. “We will review public comments and conduct rigorous stakeholder engagement before finalizing the regulations.”
Proposed modernizations include addressing all relevant criteria and major precursor air pollutants and cross-referencing the standards for those pollutants to those of the EPA to ensure that operators use the most current standards in submitting plans for BOEM’s review of the potential air quality impacts of offshore exploration and development plans.
Another important improvement would better identify the state boundary for the purposes of determining potential air quality impacts. The air quality program would measure these impacts landward from the state-seaward boundary, usually three nautical miles offshore, as opposed to only at the coastline. This proposed change would more accurately reflect impacts to the states by including impacts to all lands, including submerged lands, under state jurisdiction.
The proposed rule formalizes requirements for the consolidation of emissions from multiple facilities that are wholly or partially owned or controlled by the same operator and intended to be part of one unit or project. Specifically, the proposed rule would require a lessee or operator to add together emissions generated by proximate activities within one nautical mile from multiple facilities, whether or not they are described in a single plan. The aggregated emissions from those facilities would then be combined for analysis.
The proposed rule would result in more accurate calculations of emissions from support vessels, because their use has greatly increased as activities move further offshore. Rather than limiting consideration of emissions from supply vessels to within 25 miles of a facility, as BOEM’s current regulations do, the proposed rule recognizes the long distance covered by such vessels as development is extended in deepwater areas and the Arctic and appropriately accounts for emissions during the vessels’ entire transit. Additionally, improvements since 1980 facilitate more accurate modeling of ship emissions where they actually occur. These improvements have been incorporated into the proposal.
Importantly, the proposed rule also sets up a schedule for ensuring that plans, including previously approved plans, will be compliant with these updated regulations. With the proposed changes to the regulations, BOEM will have one set of requirements, appropriate to both regions where BOEM has authority, which will be more effective and increase predictability. The proposed regulatory changes will also provide BOEM and affected states improved information on the expected onshore air quality impacts of OCS exploration and development.
Together, the proposed changes will result in reduction of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), Sulfur Oxide (SOx), Carbon Monoxide (CO), and Particulate Matter (PM) emissions.
The public will have 60 days to submit comments on the proposal once it is published in the Federal Register. To comment, or to review comments, go to www.regulations.gov and enter “AD82 - Clean Air Reporting and Compliance” in the search field.
BOEM’s air quality rule can be viewed at: http://www.boem.gov/Air-Quality-Proposed-Rule/.