By Andrew Restuccia - 04/09/12 05:36 PM EDT
Major environmental groups on Monday urged the White House to reject attempts by the oil and gas industry to soften upcoming Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air pollution standards for natural-gas drilling.
The CEOs of 13 environmental and public health groups, in a letter to White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, took aim at what they called the industry’s “misinformation” campaign over the regulations.
The CEOs specifically trained their fire on attempts by API, the powerful trade group, and others to “riddle the EPA standards with loopholes” that greens say would render the regulations ineffective.
The regulations have been the subject of an aggressive public relations and lobbying campaign in recent months, with industry groups arguing they will impose huge burdens on companies, and green groups countering that they are essential to protect public health.
The regulations would cut smog-forming and toxic emissions from wells developed with the controversial natural-gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” During the drilling technique, sand, water and chemicals are injected into the ground in order to gain access to valuable natural-gas supplies.
The standards also target emissions from compressors, oil storage tanks and other oil-and-gas sector equipment.
API is pressing the White House to exempt sources in which less than 10 percent of their total pollution comes from “volatile organic compounds.” (VOC)
The group outlined its concerns with the standards in a letter to Jarrett late last month.
"I want to be clear that we are not opposing the rule but stating that the rule needs to change in key areas to avoid negative impacts to domestic production and job creation," API President Jack Gerard said in the letter, which also calls on EPA to give industry up to three years to implement the standards.
But the green groups said the exemption would "gut" the standards.
“This is the classic exemption that swallows the rule,” the environmental-group CEOs said in the letter. “It would gut the standards because, as API’s own numbers show, the percentage of VOCs from most wells falls below this arbitrary threshold.”
The groups — which include the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice — called the upcoming standards “common sense, in common use already, cost-effective and necessary to protect the public.”
Industry concerns about the cost of the regulations are overblown, the groups said, arguing that the standards “as a whole actually make the industry money.” The proposed standards would require technology that allows companies to capture and sell emissions from natural-gas drilling.
“The value of the gas sold typically exceeds the cost of [the required technology], so this requirement not only protects communities from harmful air pollution, but will pay for itself across the industry,” the groups said, noting that EPA estimates it will save the industry more than $30 million a year.
EPA announced earlier this month that it was again delaying the final regulations. The rules are now expected on April 17.
The standards are one of several Obama administration efforts to toughen oversight of fracking, the drilling technique that has helped usher in the recent natural-gas production boom, but has also raised pollution concerns.
EPA is studying the public health effects of fracking and the Interior Department is set to unveil regulations for fracking on public land.