On Monday we looked at how successful the oil and gas industry has been in obtaining exemptions from major federal environmental legislation. This has real consequences for local communities, and from time to time we’re going to look at specific examples.
One of the exemptions is to the Clean Air Act (CAA) of 1970, which regulates air emissions. While CAA allows for the aggregation of multiple wells operated in the same area by a single operator, it exempts oil and gas wells, and in some instances pipeline compressors and pump stations, from aggregation. This exemption allows the oil and gas industry — which often operates many small facilities in one area — to not report from these individual facilities. As a result, operators can pollute while largely unregulated by the CAA.
In January Wyoming Public Radio did a report on how this creates a problem for many residents in the state. Many landowners with oil and gas wells on their property complain about emissions affecting their air quality and health. But though there may be a lot of wells, they’re considered small facilities, so their cumulative effects are never counted up and regulations are more lax than for large emitters.You can listen to the report, which features an interview with John Fenton of Pavillion, the subject of yesterday’s personal story, and Deb Thomas, of the Powder River Resource Council, below.
Wyoming Public Radio, January 17, 2014, 5:47
Small emission sources could mean big pollution, but no one’s counting
From the report:
Some sources in the area are so small that their emission rate is not high enough to even warrant controls. Control means emissions have to be reduced by 98-percent or better, usually through a flare or some other capture or combustion process. If the facility is below the control threshold, it can just release pollutants into the air. The threshold is quite low.
According to the DEQ, there are nearly 300 small, uncontrolled sites around Pavillion. WPR requested emissions data from several wells in that region. If we assume that their emissions are about average, that means in aggregate the uncontrolled wells in Pavillion are releasing over 500 tons of volatile organic compounds per year all told. That’s more than five major sources would emit. To put this into perspective, that’s nearly twice as much as Wyoming’s largest coal power plant emitted in 2010. And that’s only for volatile organic compounds. There are other pollutants, too.
It’s a common theme here, but it bears constant repeating. The lack of federal protection from emissions means communities need to take control themselves to protect their air, their water, their land and their way of life.