About Air and Water

Friday, April 30, 2010

DFWRCC Calls for Tighter Enforcement of O&G operations

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC- April 30, 2010

April 30, 2010

Comments to TCEQ on Proposed Changes to Permit by Rule and Standard Permitting for Oil and Gas Production in Texas
About DFWRCC: DFW Regional Concerned Citizens is a network of citizens in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex who monitor governmental policy in the North Central Council of Governments region. We concentrate our resources on communication and activism in the areas of transportation, environment and ethics in government.

Reviewing the draft of proposed rule changes for PBR and MMS for Oil and Gas:
We believe that proper regulation of oil and gas drilling, exploration, production, storage and transmission is crucial to protect critical water reserves and vital air resources, and to protect public health and natural habitats and the economy. We support the need for TCEQ to better regulate oil and gas activities throughout Texas.

Rules should be uniform throughout the state for all wells/production, transmission, and storage sites. Uniform rules are equitable to all producers.

There should be no grandfathering of wells and /or no staggered timeframes for implementation of new rules.

While we understand the difficult legal issues of applying new rules retroactively, we believe that these rules should apply to all Oil and Gas Facilities in the State of Texas. Where there is question about the protection of health and safety, we believe that the earliest implementation date is the best. Waiting until 2011 or 2012 is not in the best interests of either the public or the producers.

We oppose multi-tier incentives to try to get producers to do what responsible corporate citizens should do anyway.

Air pollution and water pollution travel across legal jurisdictions; therefore, wells/sites/facilities in air-quality attainment areas and non-attainment areas should all be held to the same strict standards.

Applying different dates for rule implementation to different wells, or applying different tier rating to wells, creates too much confusion and produces higher administrative costs, complicating timely and effective inspection, oversight and enforcement. Applying different rules to different wells also complicates operations for the producers and escalates administrative and legal cost, to the operation.

New rules should apply to all wells/facilities 60 days after passage by the Commission and/or Legislature. Waiting two to four years to implement better rules is detrimental to the economic health and welfare of the communities, and to public health and safety of individuals.

Texas has a tragic history with un-odorized natural gas where leaks were not rapidly detected and corrected at New London School. Leaks should be corrected within 24 hours of detection. After 48 hours fines should escalate substantially every hour that the leak remains uncorrected, and should be substantial enough to cover costs of re-inspections, monitoring and corrective action by state agencies if required.

Operators should bear the full cost of regulatory/oversight and inspection by state and federal agencies. This cost should not be passed on to the taxpayer.
Operators should factor in these costs when performing cost/benefit analysis before deciding to invest. Those who profit from exploitation of the resources should bear the full cost of oversight and monitoring for health and safety of the community, but shall not have authority or over-sight of such monitoring. It is imperative that permitting fees and fines for non-compliance be high enough to cover administrative costs, frequent on-site inspection, and monitoring of air and water quality data.

Rules must be flexible enough to allow utilization of better technology as it becomes available for monitoring air and water quality and safe industry techniques.

We concur with the Sierra Club that proposed changes to the PBR and standard permit are long overdue. TCEQ began discussing some of these proposed (or similar rules) several years ago, but failed to enact them. Thus thousands of exploratory and production wells/ oil and gas facilities have been developed with minimal data and inadequate oversight by the TCEQ and the Texas Railroad Commission.

Oil and gas operators frequently take advantage of current Permit-by-Rule regulation to “stack” multiple wells and operations as separate facilities, avoiding the need for a standard permit or individual permit, despite large emissions. Stacking should be prohibited.
New rules should facilitate better access to reliable data for safe operation, maintenance, oversight and corporate decision making.

They should increase timely availability of verifiable information to TCEQ, Railroad Commission, EPA, local governmental authorities, the public and the media, and promote better communication between operators, regulators, and local planners and the public in solving joint challenges to the community. This is especially crucial in EPA non-attainment and near non-attainment areas, since data shows that emissions from gas production, storage and transmission in the DFW Metroplex equals or surpasses all non O&G industry achievements in attempting to reach acceptable clean air attainment levels.

The definition of “facility” should be clarified to help avoid the practice of stacking. Modifying the current Permit-by-Rule regulation to eliminate “stacking” multiple wells and operations as separate facilities for inspection and compliance activities, should promote implementation of Best Available or Maximum Available Control Technology while minimizing substandard operations.

Current site inventories should be mandatory and electronically recorded and reported by the operator to regulatory agencies for efficient oversight. Facility site plans should be certified by a professional engineer.

No well should go on-line before it has passed all TCEQ, Railroad Commission and EPA inspections/standards. Immediate reporting of changes in well/production status and or inspection/ monitoring data should be posted within 48 hours on the state agency’s website and be easily searchable by citizens, NGOs, media, law makers, lease holders and regulators.
Every production site should be referenced by the actual street address where the site is physically located and the reporting data should be searchable on the website by street address or geo address. Links to this data should be available to citizens on websites of the city or county where the facility is located.

The site inventory of equipment is especially important for assessment of fugitive emissions from evaporate tanks and emissions from non-fixed equipment. Utilization of non-stationary motorized equipment should accurately be reported. Current rules do not include regulation of non-fixed site equipment, yet excessive numbers of trucks, generators, and drills on one site contributes to air, noise and vibrations and creates problems to health and safety in neighborhoods. New TCEQ Rules should include oversight of non-stationary diesel equipment and place limits on the number of non-fixed equipment on any site in residential neighborhoods. Reliable site inventory records should be maintained and tabulated for utilization in inspections, rule application and effective decision making.

Every site should have clearly visible signs at the entrances stating name of owner, name of subcontractor/operator, safety officer, contact numbers and the number(s) of TCEQ/Railroad Commission/EPA where citizens can call to report possible violations or hazards to health and safety.

Operators should employ available technology to prevent and/or recapture emissions and hold ambient emission to levels which comply with state and federal standards. Operations failing to comply with these standards should incur fines high enough to cover frequent inspections and verification of continuous monitoring activities by the TCEQ, Railroad Commission, and EPA, and possible shut-down of facility and all related costs.
We oppose the proposal to create a two-tiered PBR because it will complicate effective regulation and cost-effective operation without adequately promoting necessary levels of verification and compliance.

No operator in or adjacent to urban areas or non-EPA Air Quality Attainment areas should be allowed to vent gases unless it is the last resort to prevent a larger blow-out.
We believe that TCEQ’s PBR rules should comply with EPA’s rules and standards. Therefore, we propose that TCEQ confer with EPA about acceptance of proposed PBR rules before they are enacted. TCEQ rules should be flexible enough to reflect any future changes in Federal Regulation, or to include adoption of better technologies.

If PBR’s are allowed they should be re-licensed at least every three years.
Accelerated rule implementation timeframes are imperative for adoption of these new TCEQ rules. It is mandatory that rules go into effect within 90 days from enactment since they apply to human health and safety standards and provide oversight for industrial sites in residential neighborhoods which are regulated only by TCEQ, the Railroad Commission, and EPA.

It is recommended that the definition of “receptors” should be modified to include not only homes, churches, and schools, but also businesses and other places frequented by people, especially by the “most vulnerable individuals.” It is especially unfortunate, in our estimation, that the rules do not protect children on playgrounds, in parks and day care centers, and does not protect health-impaired individuals in hospitals, nursing homes, and similar facilities. The rules should protect the health and safety of all residents (renters, surface owners without mineral rights and resident owners who sign mineral leases). All residences and places frequented by people within the agreed distances should be considered receptors.

Individuals should not be required to live within the immediate footprint of the facility in order to report health and safety concerns to the TCEQ, Railroad Commission or EPA.

Any complaint or report to TCEQ should trigger a report by TCEQ to the Railroad Commission, EPA, and to local governmental health and environmental authorities (city/county) and to School District and local water district(s).

Investigations should be completed within 14 days or less and report of findings published on the TCEQ website.TCEQ should notify local governmental entities of the link to the data so that it can be incorporated into the local governmental entities’ websites. It is recommended that the Local Government Code be modified to require that local governments post links to these reports on their websites to promote better communication with the community, and to better protect the health and welfare of vulnerable citizens. If the Local Government Code is not modified, it is recommended that TCEQ request that local governments post links to these reports on their websites.

Samples of air, water and soil should be taken prior to commencement of construction on O&G facilities to create a baseline. Air samples should be taken in the morning and afternoon and on both cold and hot days to account for variations in ozone. Air and water samples should be taken periodically, during fracking, and when any leak is detected. Soil samples should be taken at the pad site or storage site before construction commences for a baseline. Utilization of drilling mud and/or chemicals should be monitored. There is debate about what chemicals are added to drilling mud and fracking fluids. Many manufacturers claim that their content is proprietary and do not label or disclose additives. Drilling mud samples should be tested for heavy metals or additives which could pollute water and soil and/or endanger human health and safety, or endanger wildlife, or contaminate the food chain if fruits and vegetables are grown on reclaimed sites after end of production. When an operation goes into maintenance or goes out of production, soil and water samples should be taken to compare with the base samples taken prior to the commencement of construction. Operators are responsible for all expenses incurred in reclaiming the environment back to the baseline level.
Bonding levels for operators should reflect these possible costs.

Authored and submitted by co-founders:
Faith Chatham
Steve Blair
Harriet Irby

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