August 6, 2013

We're Getting Tanked: New EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Loosens Frack Tank Rules

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In 2012, the Obama's EPA Air Division under newly installed EPA Adminstrator Gina McCarthy issued new rules for emissions from natural gas production, specifically, the wastewater and condensate tanks present on the well pads after hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" has taken place. The new restrictions required gas companies to reduce the amount of harmful Volatile Organic Compounds and cancer-causing chemicals like benzene up to 95 percent.

The deadline to do so was October 15, 2013, but not anymore.

Condensate tanks in shale gas operations collect liquids that come up from a fracked well and are separated using a glycol separator onsite before the gas is sent into transmission pipelines. Those liquids form a toxic brine that is trucked to EPA-permitted Class 2 injection wells, waste "treatment" facilities, or "recycled" for the next fracking operation by removing the solids which are sent to landfills as "frack cake".

Many of these condensate tanks are present in rural people's yards, where their children play, and the technology to control the tanks' emissions has been available for years, but has not been put into use largely because the oil and gas industry would rather avoid the cost and generate extra revenue for their shareholders.

Today, Gina McCarthy, who has also extended the deadline for gas well flaring until 2015, supported massive subsidies for natural gas vehicles, and proposed sub-par CO2 emission standards for natural gas power plants, gave another hand out to her friends in the trillion dollar oil and gas industry. The EPA says it's because they claimed hardship during the public comment period for these new frack tank rules.

The EPA is now allowing operators to wait until as late as April 15, 2015 to comply, an 18 month extenstion.

From their fact sheet:

Phased-In Control Deadlines
•    The 2012 standards required that storage tanks subject to the rule install controls to reduce VOC emissions by Oct. 15, 2013. After those standards were issued, EPA received information that led the agency to substantially increase its estimate of storage tanks that are subject to the rule. In light of that information, and information received during public comment on the proposed changes, EPA is adjusting the compliance date for tanks subject to the rule.
•    Emissions from storage tanks generally decline over time, because the amount of liquid that moves through the tank declines as production from a well slows. EPA is setting two compliance dates, based on the date storage tanks were constructed or modified. This phased approach will help ensure the tanks likely to have the highest emissions are controlled first, while giving tank owners/operators time to purchase and install controls.
•    April 15, 2014 is the compliance deadline for tanks that come online after April 12, 2013, or within 60 days after startup, whichever is later.
•    Within 30 days of startup, owners/operators of these tanks (known as Group 2 tanks) must estimate their tanks’ potential emissions and determine whether their tanks are subject to the rule. Vapors that are collected and re- routed to a process do not have to be counted as potential emissions.
•    If a tank’s potential emissions are 6 or more tons of VOCs per year, the tgb owner/operator has an additional 30 days to control VOC emissions.
•    April 15, 2015 is the compliance deadline for tanks constructed between Aug. 23, 2011, and April 12, 2013 (known as Group 1 tanks).
•    Owners/operators of Group 1 tanks have until Oct. 15, 2013 to estimate their tanks’ potential emissions and determine whether their tanks are subject to the rule. Vapors that are collected and re-routed to a process do not have to be counted as potential emissions.
•    If a tank’s potential emissions are 6 or more tons of VOCs per year, the owner/operator has to control VOC emissions by April 15, 2015.
•    Based on public comment and additional information the agency received about the availability of VOC controls, EPA is not finalizing a proposed requirement that Group 1 tanks control VOC emissions only if there is a change that potentially would increase the tank’s emission – such as the addition of a well supplying the tank, or the refracture of an existing well. All Group 1 tanks subject to the rule must control VOC emissions.

In addition to handing over a later deadline, the EPA also loosened the strict 95 percent reduction requirement to allow for operators to go without emission control equipment as long as the emissions are under four tons per year.

Alternative Emissions Limit
•     EPA also is establishing an alternative emissions limit for storage tanks that allows owners/operators to either:
•     Reduce VOC emissions at a tank by 95 percent, as required in the 2012 rule; or
•     Demonstrate emissions from a tank have dropped to less than 4 tons per year of VOCs without emission controls.
•     This alternative limit reflects the decline in emissions that occurs at most tanks over time and allows owners/operators to shift control equipment to higher-emitting tanks.
•     To qualify for this emissions limit, owners/operators have to document that a tank’s monthly uncontrolled emissions have been below 4 tons per year for at least 12 consecutive months.
•     In addition, owners/operators must re-evaluate uncontrolled VOC emissions on a monthly basis. If emissions increase (at or above the 4 ton-per-year limit), owners/operators have 30 days to meet the 95 percent reduction requirement. However, if the increase was associated with the fracture or re-fracture of a well supplying the storage tank, owners/operators must meet the 95 percent control limit as soon as liquids from the fractured or re-fractured well are routed to the tank.
•     Similar requirements apply to storage vessels that have been taken out of service and then returned to service.

Let's put it this way. If someone were to come into your yard as you were playing as a kid, emit four tons per year of toxic air emissions from a tank, of which there are usually two per gas well with up to a dozen wells per site, what would your parents do? Well, the EPA expects shalefield families to just suck it up. This is par for the course for the Obama administration. Ironically, Obama was seen golfing with oil executives in February on the day of the anti-tar sands action in Washington. What can we expect?

Let's keep in mind who helped Gina McCarthy during her rise to power. Sierra Club used members' donations to run TV ads in Arizona and Ohio for her when the Senate was filibustering her nomination. SaveOurEnvironment.org, a coalition of most national Big Green environmental groups, set up www.standwithgina.com.

In my open letter to SaveOurEnvironment.org, I concluded:

"It's heart wrenching to hear Big Green leadership praise and celebrate Gina McCarthy. She hasn't been an ally to us in the shalefields, or worse. I would like to hear SaveOurEnvironment.org and its partners use restraint in the future, and ideally, fully inform their members about McCarthy and her record, the sub-par CO2 standard, natural gas vehicle subsidies, and gas flaring that she supports. You can't "Stand With Gina" and the Obama natural gas policy and also stand with shalefield communities. Which side are you on?"

I'm still waiting for an answer.

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