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On January 8, 2017, the U.S. EPA published a proposed rule in the Federal Register adding natural gas processing facilities to the list of facilities covered by section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), commonly known as the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) and section 6607 of the Pollution Prevention Act (PPA).  This rule proposes to expand coverage to all natural gas processing facilities, which receive and refine natural gas.  The facilities to be covered prepare process gas to meet pipeline or industrial specifications and extract liquid hydrocarbons from the field produced gas.  Natural gas processing facilities that primarily recover sulfur from natural gas are already covered by TRI.  Upstream facilities and operations primarily engaged in natural gas extraction (e.g., exploration, fracking, etc.) are not included in this newly proposed rule.

This proposed rule owes its origins to the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) which submitted a petition to the EPA on October 24, 2012, requesting that the Oil and Gas Extraction sector be added to the list of sectors covered by the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) rule.  “In the last decade alone, the number of wells, storage tanks, production, and processing facilities within the oil and gas extraction industry has increased dramatically, and the variety of toxic chemicals manufactured, processed or otherwise used by the industry has expanded significantly,” the petition stated.

But “since oil and gas facilities are currently not required to report such data, the full scope of environmental and public health risks to citizens and communities is not known. The toxics-related risks include air pollution, drinking water contamination and discharges to rivers and streams.” The petition further stated that “the communities that host this rapidly growing industry have the right to know what is being released to their environment.”

Nine months later, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy wrote a letter to EIP stating that EPA “has determined that natural gas processing facilities may be appropriate for addition to the scope of TRI.”

EPA said a survey conducted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that there were 517 natural gas processing facilities in the Lower 48 in 2012. The agency estimates more than half of those facilities would meet the TRI reporting requirement threshold.

With the exception of gas processing plants, EPA denied separate requests from petitioners to expand the scope of TRI reporting to additional oil and gas extraction industrial subsectors as identified by the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS), including:

  • Crude petroleum and natural gas extraction (NAICS 211111).
  • Gas-liquid extraction (NAICS 211112).
  • Drilling oil and gas wells (NAICS 213111).
  • Support activities for oil and gas operations (NAICS 213112).
  • Oil and gas pipeline and related structures construction (NAICS 237120).
  • Site preparation contractors (NAICS 238910).
  • Geophysical surveying and mapping services (NAICS 541360).

In rejecting the request for rule proposals that would cover the additional subsectors, the EPA reiterated that it currently is undertaking a number of rulemakings, research, guidance, and other outreach activities aimed at the oil and gas extraction sector.

Public comments regarding this rule must be received by the EPA on or before March 7, 2017. Submit your comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–TRI–2016–0390, at http://www.regulations.gov.   Follow the online instructions for submitting comments.

The future of this proposed rule is uncertain given the change in executive administrations that will be underway for the next several months but given the EPA’s deeply ingrained enthusiasm for the expansion of their regulatory oversight authority, interested parties should certainly communicate their views during the public comment period to the EPA and to their congressional representatives.

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