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Environmental and Community Groups File Petition Demanding Federal Limits on Toxic Oil & Gas Well Air Pollution

CONTACT:

Liz Judge, Earthjustice, 415.217.2007ljudge@earthjustice.org

Shazia Manji, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles (PSR-LA), 213-689-9170smanji@psr-la.org

Lauren Whittenberg, Environmental Defense Fund, 512-784-2161lwhittenberg@edf.org

 64 Environmental and Community Groups File Petition Demanding Federal Limits on Toxic Oil & Gas Well Air Pollution

Concerned about health impacts of drilling rush, groups push EPA to act swiftly 

 

WASHINGTON, DC – A large coalition of 64 local, state and national groups filed a petition today urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect public health by setting pollution limits on oil and gas wells and associated equipment in population centers around the U.S.

 The public interest law organization Earthjustice filed the petition on behalf of local and national groups with members and constituents across the U.S., including Clean Air Council, Clean Air Taskforce, Downwinders at Risk, Environmental Defense Fund, Global Community Monitor, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Sierra Club, and WildEarth Guardians.   The petition explains why the EPA should issue rules that would require oil and gas companies to limit toxic air pollution from oil and gas wells in urban, suburban and other populated areas as the Clean Air Act expressly provides.

 In recent years, the pace of oil and gas drilling has increased drastically. As of 2011, oil and gas wells in the U.S. numbered more than 1.04 million. Current estimates project that as many as 45,000 new wells could be drilled each year through 2035. 

Available data suggest that at least 100,000 tons per year of hazardous air pollution from oil and gas well sites—such as benzene, formaldehyde, and naphthalene—are currently going freely into the air. These pollutants 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,” said Earthjustice attorney Emma Cheuse, who filed the petition on behalf of the groups. “Oil and gas wells release chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects, and respiratory disease, and EPA should protect our communities, especially our children, from exposure to these hazards.”

“As fracking encroaches upon communities throughout the American West, we need relief from unchecked toxic air pollution,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director.  “Oil and gas wells might seem small, but together they are endangering our health and welfare in rural and urban areas alike, poisoning the very skies that make the West such an amazing place to live.”

“Since 2010, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality here has been promising to increase regulation and inspection of the booming oil and gas exploration and development occurring at unprecedented levels, even for Texas,” noted Cyrus Reed of Sierra Club’s Texas Lone Star Chapter. “But despite some baby steps, oil and gas development remains largely unregulated and the Texas legislature has handcuffed the agency from taking additional regulatory steps. It’s time for the EPA to step in and do what Texas leaders have been unable to do: protect Texans from the unmitigated emissions of toxic air pollutants which poison our lungs and cause smog throughout cities like Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Midland.” 

“Every Oklahoman has the right to clean air to breathe. 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,” said Sierra Club Oklahoma Chapter Director David Ocamb.

“Californians’ air, health and food supply are under assault from increased oil and gas production using fracking, sanctioned by our Legislature and Governor Brown,” said Denny Larson, Executive Director of the Global Community Monitor based in Richmond, CA.  “It’s time for EPA to do its job and enforce the Clean Air Act and end the loophole that is poisoning our air.”

“Oil and gas wells release chemicals that have clearly and definitely been linked to health harms from nose bleeds and head aches to cancer, birth defects, and respiratory disease,” saidJames Dahlgren, MD, an internist with a sub-specialty in toxicology and member of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles.  “I’ve witnessed the harm these toxics cause to people and given everything we know about these pollutants, the EPA must take action to protect communities from exposure to these clear hazards,” he added. 

“Almost a decade of un-and-under-regulated fracking has transformed North Texas into a sacrifice zone for the gas industry, with conservative estimates of over 1,000 tons of hazardous air pollution being released annually from industry sources. Breathing this toxic air pollution has left a well-documented trail of illness and disease throughout the Barnett Shale. EPA needs to do its job and protect frontline victims of fracking by reducing the toxic fallout from the practice,” said Jim Schermbeck of the Dallas-Ft. Worth-based clean air group Downwinders at Risk.

“Pennsylvania residents living near shale gas operations deserve much stronger public health protections from EPA,” said Matt Walker, community outreach director of Clean Air Council. “EPA’s current standards for flaring at new oil and gas wells do not address the many other types of ongoing operations at oil and gas wells that emit significant amounts of toxic air pollution. The Council and its members urge EPA to act quickly to greatly limit air pollution from oil and gas infrastructure. 

“Our nation should not ask communities to trade clean air for cheap energy,” said Mark Brownstein, Environmental Defense Fund’s Associate Vice President & Chief Counsel, US Climate & Energy. “Anyone living near an oil and gas development deserves to know that all necessary steps are being taken to avoid hazardous air pollution.  Strong regulation is necessary to provide that assurance.”

“The scientific evidence is piling up to support what people around the country have been reporting for years: fracking-related air pollution can threaten the health of neighboring communities,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The oil and gas industry must not be allowed to continue spewing poisons into the air. EPA needs to step up to protect the health of Americans living near fracking operations across the country.”

 

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RESOURCES

 

 

RESOURCES INCLUDED AT THE END OF THE PETITION:

 

In Appendix A: Emissions and Covered Population Centers

  • Table 1 – NSPS v. NESHAP Coverage Comparison: Regulation of Wells and Associated Equipment
  • Table 2 – Oil and Gas Sector Summary: Comparison of Emissions Controlled by EPA’s Final Rule (“Controlled”) vs. Emissions that Could Have Been Controlled by EPA’s Final Rule But Were Not (“Not Controlled)
  • Table 5 – Presence of Active Oil and Gas Wells in — (1) Combined Statistical Areas (CSAs) with population greater than 1 million and (2) Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) not located in such a CSA

 

In Appendix B: Maps

 

  • Map 1 – U.S. Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 2 – U.S. Oil and Gas Wells and Population Centers
  • Map 3 – California: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 4 – Colorado: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 5 – Pennsylvania: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 6 – Texas: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 7 – Ohio: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 8 – Louisiana: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 9 – Michigan: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 10 – New York: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 11 – Oklahoma: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers

 

In Appendix C: List of health and other studies.

 

EPA Wins Yet Again — Soot Standard Upheld

In yet another win for the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental protection, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit sided with the government that it acted appropriately in making the health-based standard for soot pollution more restrictive in 2012.

At issue was the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for Particulate Matter of 2.5 Microns or less. In 2012, the EPA lowered the standard from 15 micro-curies per year to 12 micro-curies per year based on a preponderance of evidence that these tiny bits of soot can severely impact the heath of those with preexisting breathing conditions, particularly the very young and very old. Particulate matter, or PM, refers to combinations of fine solids, such as dirt, soil dust, pollens, molds, ashes and soot, that are formed in the atmosphere as a byproduct of gaseous combustion from such diverse sources as utility and factory smokestacks, vehicle exhaust, wood burning, mining, construction activity, and agriculture. 

According to the EPA, the revised standard would save between $4 billion to $9 billion annually by 2020 because of lower health costs and more productive employees, while costing just between $53 million to $350 million to implement. The vast majority of the country, or 99% of U.S. counties, would meet the revised air standard by the 2020 compliance date without taking additional action beyond what already is required under other clean air laws.

And who disagree? Well the US Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers did, arguing the EPA lacked the scientific evidence to lower the standard.

Fortunately, good judgement prevailed, and once implemented these new regulations will make it a bit easier to breathe.

In Texas, the only county that currently violates this health-based standard is an area of Harris County. While TCEQ argues that this is due mainly to dust and sand from outside the area — including some from as far away as the Sahara — is is clear that local emissions from the port of Houston and from nearby refineries and motor vehicles also contribute to the pollution. Whether or not Harris County is ultimately declared non-compliant there are clearly actions that can be taken locally to lower soot pollution.

Sierra Club will continue to work to clean up the Port of Houston and also attempt to prevent new export terminals for coal and natural gas, which can also contribute to pollution.

Latest numbers from Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign show Coal Plant Retirements continuing- Is Nevada a Good Model?

The Sierra Club’s signature campaign — the Beyond Coal Campaign — reports that coal retirements are on the rise. As of May 1st, some 472 coal-burning units in the United States had retired or announced their retirement. These included 165 entire power plants, and another 33 power plants with partial retirements. All told, the retirements — when completed — represent 67,144 MWs of power, or about 20% of all coal plants. The announced retirements include 2,580 MWs of announced retirements in 2014 alone. See here for a full account of the numbers.

While much of the work in Texas has focussed on stopping new proposed coal plants, three coal plants here have been scheduled for retirement. First, one of AEP’s three units at the Welsh Power Plant in northeast Texas is scheduled for retirement next year — in part due to its inability to economically reduce emissions — while CPS Energy in San Antonio is slated to retire its two Deely Units by the end of 2018. We continue to press for additional retirements, such as the 600 MW unit partially owned by Austin Energy, and the big three coal plants owned by Luminant, currently embroiled in its bankruptcy mess.

We might be able to take some inspiration from our Sierra Club colleagues in Nevada.  Guided in part by requirements under state law to reduce emissions, NV Energy is scheduled to retire its 553-MW Reid Gardner plant in Clark County, Nev. over the next three and a half years. By the end of 2019, the utility would also eliminate its 11.3% ownership interest in the coal-fired, 2,250-MW Navajo power plant in Coconino County, Ariz. One of the ways it would replace the Reid Gardner plant is to acquire the planned 200 MW Moapa Solar Energy Center for an estimated $438.1 million as part of its broad portfolio realignment away from coal-fired generation. Sierra Club was there, calling on the planned retirement to be accompanied by investments in new clean energy resources. Note to Texas: we have good sun and wind resources and plenty of development. Let’s get those old coal plants retired!

Latest ERCOT projections suggest adequate resources for next few years — buoyed by wind, gas and solar

ERCOT has recently released a series of biannual reports suggesting adequate electric resources in Texas over the coming months and years. While “resource adequacy” has been a buzzword in Texas in recent years, due in part to a series of unfortunate outages from fossil fuel plants and extreme weather events, the ERCOT reports released today suggest a healthy reserve — in normal weather situations. This is due in part to the continued use of energy efficiency and demand response, as well as significant investment in new power plants, including wind, solar and natural gas. 

According to its 10-year projection report known as the “Report on Capacity, Demand and Reserves in the ERCOT Region,” ERCOT expects that Texas will meet its current reserve target of 13.75% in 2015, 2016 and 2017. By 2018, reserves would dip under the current target, falling to 12.3%.It is important to note, however, that ERCOT — as per its current board policy — continues to discount the capacity of wind resources to only 8.75% at peak demand since wind values tend to be lower on a hot summer day. However, recent ERCOT proposals suggest that West Texas wind should be valued closer to 15%, while Coastal wind resources actually provide closer to 40% at peak times. Making those adjustments would raise the reserve margin. According to ERCOT’s latest Planning Report, also recently released, over 8,712 MWs of wind power is expected to be added over the next three-and-a-half years, bringing total wind capacity to some 19,777 MWs by 2017. That report also highlighted some 3,000 MWs of solar that is being developed in Texas, though only a few of those projects have signed interconnection agreements. 

The report also used ERCOT’s latest load forecasts, which take into account the impact of energy efficiency, while also giving credit for demand response programs run by both ERCOT, as well as transmission and wire companies. Thus, the report assumes that at least 1,900 MWs of these demand response programs will be available to the market should they be needed. 

A shorter term forecast — known as the Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy — shows some concerns for the upcoming summer, however. ERCOT reports that the summer will start with tight reserves, but that six new gas and wind generating projects will add some 2,122 MWs of power by the end of the summer. ERCOT states that in normal weather there should be sufficient reserves, though in extreme weather situations, or should several large units have issues, they would need to rely on their demand response products, operating reserves and a call for additional energy conservation. 

Sierra Club believes that new generation — particularly from wind and solar — along with continued investment in demand response and energy efficiency should keep the lights on in Texas for years to come. Among our recommendations are increasing the required utility energy efficiency goals to 1% of peak demand by 2018, increasing the budget for Emergency Reserve Services, and allowing demand response companies to bid in directly into the energy market. Stay tuned for more. Click here for access to several of the ERCOT reports. 

Unusual coalition of opponents of proposed Marvin Nichols Dam join together and tell Texas Water Development Board: No Dam Way!

It’s not often that representatives of the Texas House of Representatives most associated with the Tea Party join with large timber companies, homeowners and the Sierra Club for a common cause. But that’s exactly what happened in and outside a hearing in Arlington this week, where the Texas Water Development Board and local water utilities hosted a Water Planning public hearing. At issue was the process for adopting the regional and state water plans, and in particular, whether or not a water strategy favored by one region — Region C — basically the Dallas area — which is vehemently opposed by Region D – could be put in the Water Plan without even a reference to the other group’s opposition. The water strategy in question has been on the back burner for some 15 years and is called Marvin Nichols Reservoir. The gigantic reservoir would be placed in Northeast Texas along the Sulphur River and in the process destroy important habitat, homes, businesses and part of the river itself.

James Presley, veteran environmentalist from Texarkana, said the possible mandatory deletion of any reference to Texas’ bitterest water fight struck him as particularly heavy-handed.

“I call this the Chinese solution to a Texas problem,” he said, according to an article by the Dallas Morning News.

Speaking on behalf of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club was former director Dr. Ken Kramer, who decried any process where the TWDB would allow one region’s desired strategy to trump another’s. He asked the TWDB to carefully consider the implications of such a water planning process, pitting one region against another.

If there was a bright spot in the proceedings, it was the unusual coalition of opponents, which included Rep. David Simpson (Rep-Longview), Andrea Williams, staff for Rep. George Lavender (Rep.- Texarakana), Bill Ward of Ward Timber, International Paper, and the Cass County elect judge, Mayor of Douglassville, a big bus of East Texans interested in protecting their homes and Rita Beving, representing the Dallas group of the Sierra Club and a member of the Executive Committee of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Stay tuned for more on this issue.

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Sierra Club’s Rita Beving joins Rep. Simpson and others and tells TWDB exactly what they think about Marvin Nichols!

 

 

 

 

 

Could Supreme Court Decision Impact ERCOT’s Reliability Needs? ERCOT latest report suggests not.

While there are a lot of what ifs, the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollutant Rule (CSAPR) at first glance could impact future generation and operating reserves in ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. In fact, back in 2011, in response to a request from the Texas Public Utility Commission, a preliminary analysis from ERCOT found that anywhere from 1,200 MWs to 6,000 MWs of Texas fossil fuel generation might be subject to closure or mothballing because of the impacts of the rules, putting Texas electric reliability at risk, especially at times of high demand or extreme temperatures. While the ERCOT preliminary analysis was admittedly rushed, and made some big assumptions,  it did suggest the timing of implementation of those 2011 proposed rules was going to be challenging for Texas at certain times of year. 

Well three years later, there is continued good news for development of more electric generation in Texas. Just a few days ago, ERCOT released its latest System Planning Monthly Report (March 2014), again showing there is a healthy interest in investing in Texas’s electric market. The report states that ERCOT is currently tracking 230 active generation interconnection requests totaling over 58,100 MWs of power. Again leading the way in these requests are wind — roughly 27,000 MWs in all — natural gas — at roughly the same — and solar — at some 3,300 MWs of power. In fact, the latest planning report shows that installed wind within ERCOT has already reached 11,065 MWs, and the expected amount of wind of those with signed interconnection agreements would reach 19,777 MWs by the end of 2017. 

Some are sure to paint doomsday scenarios where EPA rules — supported by the US Supreme Court — send Texas into a spiraling electric reliability crunch. Those poor coal plants just can’t meet those pollution rules and stay open they will say. While there will be challenges, and there is a need to support strong ancillary services like demand response to keep the lights on, expected investments in both gas, but especially in wind and solar, should keep Texas’ humming along economically. With implementation of CSAPR, we should also get some relief from all that coal pollution. 

US Supreme Courts Upholds EPA’s Cross-State Pollution Rule; Eventually should lead to more controls on Texas coal plants

?????????????In the ongoing tussle between states like Texas that have taken an-anti EPA position, and the Obama Administration and the EPA, the EPA won the latest round, as the US Supreme Court reversed the US Court of Appeals and found that EPA was within its rights to issue a Cross-State Air Polllution Rule (CSPAR) that required “upwind” states to control soot and ozone-forming pollutants that impacted down-wind states. Under the EPA’s rule promulgated in 2012, Texas’s largest and dirtiest coal plants would have been forced to make major reduction in their pollutants which impact nearby states like Arkansas and Oklahoma. Several states, including Texas’s Governor Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbot, immediately intervened and won a victory at the US Court of Appeals. With this week’s ruling, that victory was short-lived.

While it is unlikely that the EPA rule under dispute will be adopted in exactly its current form, expect to see a new EPA proposed rule with a slightly different timeline sooner rather than later. That rule is likely to give states some flexibility but it will require deeper cuts in pollution from Texas’s oldest fossil fuel plants. Likely impacted will be the big coal plants owned by Luminant for example. That’s good news for Texans living near the plant or in nearby cities that suffer the pollution, and also for our neighbors in Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma.  Afterall, it’s called the Good Neighbor Provisions for a reason!

If you want to read Sierra Club’s official position on this amazing legal victory — afterall we were one of many groups that filed a brief in support of the EPA — see this press release from national Sierra Club.