A coalition of environmental groups asked the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday to begin drafting regulations on emissions from oil and natural gas wells near urban areas, including thousands in Oklahoma.
The petition, filed by 64 local, state and national groups, said the EPA should limit toxic air pollution from wells under the Clean Air Act.
The petition identified more than 23,500 oil and gas wells within the metropolitan areas of Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Lawton. The state had about 182,000 active oil and gas wells in 2012, according to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
“Every Oklahoman has the right to clean air to breathe,” said David Ocamb, director of the Sierra Club’s Oklahoma chapter. “Currently, Oklahoma air continues to deteriorate and instances of illnesses directly connected to air quality such as asthma continue to increase. A significant cause for this is the dramatic increase in oil and gas drilling in our state over the past decade.”
The coalition said its data shows at least 100,000 tons of hazardous air pollution per year came from oil and gas wells, including chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde and naphthalene that have been linked to respiratory and neurological problems, birth defects and cancer.
“More than 150 million Americans now live near oil and gas wells or above shale areas where companies are looking to drill or engage in hydraulic fracturing, and EPA needs to set standards that restrict the hazardous air pollutants they put into the air,” Emma Cheuse, an attorney for Earthjustice, said in a statement.
The petition is the first step in what likely will be a lengthy process to come up with rules on emissions from oil and gas wells. It asks the EPA to gather public comments and issue a report within 180 days.
Tim Ballo, another attorney for Earthjustice, one of the 64 groups involved in the petition, said the EPA already has standards for emissions from some well equipment and some volatile organic compounds.
Pollution called toxic
“The majority of the equipment is uncovered for toxic emissions,” Ballo said. “We believe they pose more than negligible risks near those population centers.”
Among the groups involved are the Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The petition is likely to draw opposition from the oil and gas industry. Last year, Devon Energy Corp. pulled out of the EPA’s voluntary Natural Gas Star emissions program after it said the agency was misusing data to make the regulatory case for reductions in greenhouse gases. Devon said the EPA didn’t have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
Meanwhile, the EPA is gathering comments on the possibility of reducing methane emissions from oil and natural gas wells. The agency last month put several technical papers on its website to gather public comments on compressors, leaks and pneumatic controllers and pumps.
Currently, Oklahoma air continues to deteriorate and instances of illnesses directly connected to air quality such as asthma continue to increase. A significant cause for this is the dramatic increase in oil and gas drilling in our state over the past decade.”
Director of the Sierra Club’s Oklahoma chapter