API Questions Offshore Air Quality Proposal


By The Maritime Executive 03-17-2016 06:40:41

U.S. energy industry organization has spoken out against the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) proposal to regulate air quality in the U.S. outer continental shelf.

API Group Director of Upstream and Industry Operations Erik Milito said that the move is the latest example of an agency advancing regulation outside of its authority. 

The agency’s own conclusions contradict the proposal, showing that offshore operations don’t significantly impact onshore air quality, he says.

“BOEM air modeling studies are not expected to be completed until 2017 and were commissioned to inform the rule. The agency should not get ahead of the science and proceed with a rule proposal without the necessary data to justify costly regulatory changes.

“The agency is mandated to regulate outer continental shelf emissions only if the activities have significant effects on onshore air quality. Based on the agency’s own studies, that simply isn’t the case. This is regulation for regulation’s sake.

“The suggested regulatory changes could significantly affect operations, and a robust cost impact analysis is necessary. This is yet another agency piling on new regulations that could hinder domestic energy production and add untold costs to industry operations.”

In a February 10 letter to BOEM Director Abigail Hopper, API called on BOEM to not fundamentally alter the current Air Quality Regulatory Program. The agency and neighboring states have repeatedly concluded that offshore emission sources do not contribute significantly to onshore air quality.

BOEM’s Commitment

As part of the Obama Administration’s on-going commitment to a cleaner, more secure energy future, Hopper and Janice Schneider, Assistant Secretary, Land and Minerals Management announced proposed updated air quality regulations that will more accurately account for emissions from offshore oil and gas activity.

The proposal updates 36-year-old regulations and incorporates BOEM’s recent Arctic outer continental shelf 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 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 outer continental shelf 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 outer continental shelf 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, said BOEM in a statement

“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,” 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 change 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, says BOEM.

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, says BOEM, 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.

The public will have 60 days to submit comments on the proposal once it is published in the Federal Register.