Oil and gas prices continue to fluctuate and the United States proposes new rules to reduce gas flaring. The Environmental Protection Agency has finalised rules relating to the enforcement of the Clean Air Act, and a high-flaring refinery in California has implemented new flaring reduction measures.
US proposes new rules to reduce gas flaring
The United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will update its regulations to reduce natural gas wastage from flaring, venting, and leaks.
The proposed rules will be phased in over several years and will reduce fossil fuel waste, carbon emissions and increase federal tax collection.
The BLM’s onshore oil and gas management program is a major contributor to US oil and gas production. More than 100,000 onshore oil and gas sites produce five percent of US oil supply and eleven percent of the country’s natural gas. In 2014 the value of BLM oil and gas exceeded $27 billion, generating $3 billion in federal royalties.
From 2009 to 2014 oil and gas producers vented, flared and leaked 375 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of natural gas. This volume of gas is enough to fuel more than 5 million homes annually.
The BLM will propose requirements to help oil and gas operators implement cost-effective measures to reduce gas wastage, as well as modernise outdated production rules to bring them in line with existing technology. The rules will also modify existing royalty rate provisions to enhance flexibility without raising rates.
EPA completes Clean Air Act guidelines
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalised guidelines for Clean Air Act requirements aimed at reducing smog and pollution from oil and gas operations. Smog levels are rising in places with increasing oil and gas development, but the EPA has now made it clear that states are required to act.
A recent report by the Clean Air Task Force, ‘Gasping for Breath,’ found that smog from oil and gas development has a significant effect on public health. The report found 750,000 asthma attacks, 500,000 missed days of school, and 2,000 asthma-related emergency room visits linked to oil and gas production.
The EPA has issued new control technique guidelines (CTGs) to reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released from oil and gas operations. The EPA set standards in 2012 and 2016 for new and modified equipment and activities. The new guidelines cover older equipment, which is responsible for the largest proportion of oil and gas pollution.
Under the Clean Air Act and the EPA CTGs, it is now a state responsibility to implement ‘reasonably available control technology’.
High flaring site implements gas flaring reduction measures
The Torrance Refinery in California has reached an agreement with local air quality regulators to upgrade its internal electrical power supply. This means the facility will not need to shut down and flare off excess toxic gas during local blackouts.
Local blackouts have caused several shutdowns, the most recent occurring at the start of October. When the plant shuts down gas flares can be seen for miles, releasing toxins into the air and creating a significant fire hazard at the refinery.
The plant has also had to flare due to other unforeseen circumstances: equipment breakdowns and computer glitches. While the power upgrade will reduce the number of potential flaring scenarios, it may not completely resolve the problem.