BOEM to Update Offshore Air-Quality Monitoring Regulations

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) reported plans to update federal offshore air quality monitoring regulations that will more accurately account for emissions from offshore oil and gas activity Thursday.

The proposal would update 36-year old regulations and incorporate BOEM’s recent Arctic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) jurisdiction over air quality. The proposed changes together will reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur oxide (Sox), carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter (PM).

“This proposal takes a balanced approach to modernize BOEM’s regulations and ensure compliance with today’s air quality standards,” said Janice Schneider, assistant secretary of Land and Minerals Management, in a March 17 press statement.

BOEM regulates air quality emissions from oil and gas activity on areas of the OCS as 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. Congress recently added the latter to BOEM’s jurisdiction. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations air emissions on the remaining OCS as part of its permitting process under the Clean Air Act.

No specific reductions of emissions are mandated at this time, but the rule is designed to insure that clean air stays clean and polluted areas will not be further degraded in air quality, a BOEM spokesperson told Rigzone in a statement. In 2011, an estimated 347,192 tons per year of NOx was emitted from Gulf of Mexico operations, the most of any emissions from the region. A significant amount of NOx emissions came from support vessels, with 175,558 tons per year emitted in 2011. NO2 contributes to acid rain, the formation of atmospheric particulate matter, and ground-level ozone. It also can decrease lung function and cause other respiratory problems, BOEM told Rigzone.

The proposed modernization of the air quality regulations has been in progress for several years now and preceded the recent bilateral agreement between the United States and Canada to address climate change, BOEM said.

The current BOEM rules were written in 1980 and reference the pollutants, standards and benchmarks in place at the time, BOEM told Rigzone. The most significant updates in the proposed rule relate to fulfilling BOEM’s statutory responsibility under OCSLA [Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act] by addressing all relevant criteria and major precursor air pollutants and by cross-referencing the ambient air quality standards and benchmarks – the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), Significant Impact Levels (SILs) and Ambient Air Increments (AAIs) – to those established and periodically amended by the EPA.

The proposed rule also would more accurately calculate emissions from support vessels, which are being used more frequently as oil and gas activities move further offshore. 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 drops this distance limitation, “recognizing the long distance covered by such vessels serving the Arctic and deepwater Gulf and the improvements to modeling since 1980 that allow ship emissions to be modeled where they actually occur,” BOEM noted.

The rule also would change the locations from which air emissions will be measured and evaluated from the closest point in the state to the location where the impacts are greatest. It would change the circumstance where emissions reductions measures (ERM), including best available control technology, are required, establish new criteria for the application of ERM and expand the use of offsets as a component of ERM.

Additionally, the proposed rule would revise the point of air quality compliance to the state seaward boundary, rather than the coastline. It would establish requirements for the consolidation of emissions from multiple facilities, when those facilities have common ownership, operation, or control, are in proximity to each other, and overlap in time of operations. The rule also would add an air quality component to the submission of right of use and easement, right-of-way and lease-term pipeline applications; and add a new requirement for all plans to be reviewed at least every decade, to ensure ongoing compliance with the NAAQS, as amended from time to time, BOEM told Rigzone.

Proposal ‘Latest Blow’ Against Oil, Gas Industry

The Independent Petroleum Association of America called the proposal the latest in a series of blows to the oil and natural gas industry during President Obama’s final year in office. Earlier this week, the White House scrapped plans to include Atlantic waters offshore the U.S. East Coast in future offshore drilling plans.

Dan Naatz, senior vice president of government regulations, said the proposed 349-page regulatory scheme would toughen 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. Naatz also said the Obama administration’s expectation of stakeholders to review and comment on 349 pages of new federal regulations in a 60-day window is another example of the administration “making it as difficult as possible for the fossil fuel industry to remain in business.”

“It’s clear this administration continues to mount an aggressive climate agenda against America’s oil and natural gas producers, putting the views of extreme environment activists ahead of national energy security, American jobs and at the expense of American consumers pocketbooks,” Naatz commented in a March 17 press statement.

The American Petroleum Association (API) also criticized the move, saying the agency was seeking to advance regulation outside of its authority. The agency is mandated to regulate Outer Continental Shelf emissions only if the activities have significant effects on onshore air quality. The agency’s own conclusions contradict the proposal, indicating that offshore operations don’t significant impact onshore air quality.

“BOEM air modelling studies are not expected to be completed until 2017 and were commissioned to inform the rule,” said API Group Director of Upstream and Industry Operations Erik Milito in a March 17 press statement. “The agency should not get ahead of the science and proceed with a rule proposal without the necessary data to justify costly regulatory changes.”

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the administration was trying to earn plaudits for including the Arctic offshore in its proposed leasing plan, but at the same time, is proposing regulations that would make Arctic development all the more difficult.

“This smoke-and-mirrors approach jeopardizes the energy security of our nation,” Murkowski noted.

Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at


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