Natural gas-processing plants would have to start publicly reporting toxic chemicals they release into the environment under proposed regulations the Environmental Protection Agency announced last week.
“The oil and gas industry releases an enormous amount of toxic pollutants every year, and communities deserve to know what they’re facing,” Adam From, senior attorney for Environmental Integrity Project, said in a prepared statement.
“(Friday’s) proposal by EPA marks significant progress for public health, the environment, and the right to know,” he said. “We hope EPA will move swiftly to finalize and implement this simple yet vital public-reporting rule.”
In 2012, the Environmental Integrity Project and 18 partner organizations – including Durango-based San Juan Citizens Alliance – filed a petition asking the EPA to require oil- and gas-processing facilities to report emissions in what’s known as a Toxics Release Inventory.
A Toxics Release Inventory is an online public database that tracks toxic chemicals released by industrial facilities that could pose a risk to human health or the environment.
The program was created in 1986 by Congress after toxic gases escaped a plant in India in 1984, killing thousands of local residents. The intent of the “Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act” is to “promote emergency planning and to provide the public with information about releases of toxic chemicals in their community.”
While other industries – such as metal mining, manufacturing and hazardous waste treatment – are subject to report more than 650 chemicals to the EPA, oil and gas facilities for more than 30 years have been exempt.
In January 2015, the environmental and open government groups filed a lawsuit against the EPA, demanding the agency respond to the 2012 petition, which it did in October 2015.
The EPA proposal would require between 281 to 444 natural gas-processing facilities across the U.S. to report toxic chemical releases, which can include xylenes, formaldehyde and benzene.
“In preparing natural gas and associated products, these facilities deal with over 21 TRI-covered chemicals,” according to the EPA website. “Accordingly, TRI reporting by these facilities would provide significant release and waste management data that would meaningfully increase the amount of information available to the public and further the purposes of TRI.”
EPA officials did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.
The proposed rule was published Friday in the Federal Register. Facilities in natural gas extraction, such as exploration and fracking, are not included, the EPA said.
“People deserve to know what toxic chemicals are being released near their homes, schools and hospitals,” Amy Mall, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resource Defense Council, said in a prepared statement. “Yet, for too long, the oil and gas industry has been exempt from rules that apply to other industries.”
Around Durango, facilities that would report if the rule is adopted include the Williams Partners L.P. and BP American Production Co. plants in Ignacio, as well as four processing plants in San Juan County, New Mexico, including the San Juan Basin Gas Plant, owned by ConocoPhillips.
Davy Kong, spokesman for ConocoPhillips, wrote in an email that the company is reviewing the EPA’s proposed rules, and “it is too early to comment to what extent the rule, if finalized, will impact our operations.”
Representatives for other companies in the region, as well as representatives from several oil and gas advocacy groups, did not immediately respond for comment Tuesday.
The EPA will hold a public comment period, and expects to file the rules in the Federal Register by August 2018.
“We are proud to be part of the effort that brought this about as it represents a victory for public health and the public right to know,” said Erika Brown, communications manager for San Juan Citizens Alliance.