Natural gas and oil producers in the Barnett Shale play of northern Texasare set to serve as the test case for a suite of new air quality regulationsthat the state's environmental regulators enacted this week.
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At a meeting in Austin Wednesday, the board of the Texas Commission onEnvironmental Quality voted to adopt air quality standards for new oil and gasproduction facilities. The rules, which update control requirements foremissions permits for the facilities, will take effect February 17.
"New projects in the 23-county Barnett Shale area will have to meet thenew requirements as of April 1," TCEQ spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said Friday.
The agency chose initially to narrow the geographic scope of the rulepackage "to ensure it has the ability to implement this rule in an efficientand effective manner," Morrow said.
"The Barnett Shale area has been chosen because it presents the greatestchallenge to the commission due to the high volume of current drilling sitesand its close proximity to dense urban populations," she said.
Ultimately, the TCEQ will expand the rules to cover the entire state atan undetermined time in the future.
Celina Romero, who represented the Texas Pipeline Association at the TCEQmeeting, said Friday the rules will represent "big changes" in the way thatthe state measures emissions from pipelines and related facilities.
"In the past, a permit by rule would cover one facility or piece ofequipment. Now it's mandatory that a single registration aggregate allcommonly owned facilities within a quarter mile," she said.
In addition, the new rules impose "stringent hourly emission limits" onoperators, replacing a system of annual limits. "In the past, we didn't havehourly emissions in terms of pounds per hour; we had tons per year," Romerosaid. "Those are huge changes."
Romero said industry representatives had worked with the TCEQ staff overthe past year to ensure that some of the initially proposed regulations thatthe industry considered most onerous didn't make their way into the final rulepackage.
"It's a better rule today than when we first saw it eight months ago,"she said.
She praised the TCEQ for initially limiting the enforcement of the newrule package to the Barnett Shale, rather then immediately implementing itstatewide. "This will give everybody time to practice under it," she said.
However, Cyrus Reed, conservation director of Lone Star Chapter of theSierra Club, said the rules as adopted were insufficiently stringent,particularly as they pertain to existing gas infrastructure, which isgrandfathered in under the old regulations.
"We would have liked to see them significantly stronger," he said. "Inthe Barnett Shale, we've got approximately 1,400 wells of various sizes. Wewanted a timeline to have all those facilities operate under new rules."
In addition, Reed said the state should have implemented the newregulations statewide, rather than limiting them to the Barnett Shale play.
As it is, the TCEQ set a January 2012 deadline for implementing astatewide set of emissions rules for facility maintenance, start-ups andshutdowns, so "they're sort of under a timeline anyway," he said.
Generally, he said the new rules give the gas and oil industries too muchleeway when it comes to requiring them to clean up potentially harmfulemissions from their operations. "I work for the Sierra Club and we generallywant to be on the safe side," Reed said.
--Jim Magill, firstname.lastname@example.org
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