BOEM proposes new air-quality rules for offshore oil, gas drilling

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management proposed new air-quality requirements for offshore oil and gas drilling that it said would more accurately account for emissions and effective protect any state’s air quality. It said that the proposal updates 36-year-old regulations and incorporates BOEM’s Arctic Outer Continental Shelf jurisdiction over air quality, which Congress recently added, the US Department of the Interior agency said.

BOEM regulates air-quality emissions from oil and gas activity on areas of the OCS 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. The US Environmental Protection Agency regulates air emissions on the remaining OCS as part of its permitting process under the Clean Air Act.

Proposed changes would include addressing all relevant criteria and major precursor air pollutants, and cross-referencing the standards for those pollutants to EPA’s 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, BOEM said.

The new requirements also would better identify a state’s boundary for the purposes of determining potential air-quality impacts, it said. The air-quality program would measure these impacts landward from the state-seaward boundary, usually 3 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, BOEM said.

It said the proposed rule would formalize 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, it would require a lessee or operator to add together emissions generated by proximate activities within 1 nautical mile of 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 agency said.

Support vessels’ emissions

It also would result in more accurate calculations of emissions from support vessels since their use has grown as activities move further offshore, BOEM said.

“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,” it said. “Additionally, improvements since 1980 facilitate more accurate modeling of ship emissions where they actually occur. These improvements have been incorporated into the proposal.”

Finally, the proposed rule sets up a schedule for ensuring that plans, including those which have been approved previously, will comply with these updated regulations.

“With the proposed changes to the regulations, BOEM will have one set of requirements, appropriate to both regions where BOEM has authority, which will be more effective and increase predictability,” the agency said. “The proposed regulatory changes will also provide BOEM and affected states improved information on the expected onshore air quality impacts of OCS exploration and development.”

Comments will be accepted for 60 days following the proposed rule’s publication in the Federal Register, which BOEM said was imminent. American Petroleum Institute and Independent Petroleum Association of America officials responded immediately.

Regulating beyond authority

API Group Upstream and Industry Operations Group Director Erik Milito said BOEM’s OCS air-quality regulation proposal was 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 said.

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

Daniel T. Naatz, IPAA senior vice-president for government relations and political affairs, said BOEM’s air-quality proposal was simply the latest in a series of blows to the oil and gas industry by the administration during US President Barack Obama’s final year in office.

“It’s clear this administration continues to mount an aggressive climate agenda against America’s oil and gas producers, putting the views of extreme environmental activists ahead of national energy security, American jobs, and at the expense of American consumers’ pocketbooks,” Naatz said. “Today, it proposes a highly complicated 349-page regulatory scheme that toughens measuring, tracking, and reporting of air quality emissions, which will no doubt add yet another layer of burdensome and costly requirements on an already-suffering industry and could affect American energy development.”

Milito agreed, saying, “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.”

Contact Nick Snow at

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