N.D. Tribes Must Control Oil Field Pollution

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Environmental Protection Agency has taken immediate action to regulate emissions from hundreds of oil and gas facilities on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota.
     Citing the “good cause exemption” the EPA instituted the final rule to implement air quality controls on hundreds of gas and oil producers within the reservation while it simultaneously published a proposed rule to establish a “Reservation-specific” Federal Implementation Plan.
     The new regulation establishes enforceable requirements for reducing volatile organic compound emissions for owners and operators of “more than 600 existing and new oil and natural gas production facilities” producing from the Bakken Pool within the reservation, to provide the public within the reservation the same air quality protections the public enjoys outside the reservation.
     The EPA cited “compelling circumstances” for publishing the rule without providing adequate notice because the “significant” emissions create a public health and safety hazard.
     The need to address the emissions was brought to the agency’s attention approximately 12 months ago and a series of meetings were held to develop permit applications, but “due to the extraordinary number of permits that needed to be issued, the need to tailor each of those permits to comport with the information in the permit application and the short timeframe remaining to complete those tasks, it would not be possible to issue all, or even a significant portion of, the final permits by August 26, 2012,” when many of the “consent agreement final orders (CAFOs)” that contain comparable emissions controls expire. Once the CAFOs expire, the production facilities could not continue “to operate, construct or modify” without an EPA permit, disrupting the economic benefits for the reservation.
     The key provisions of the action require “either collection and high efficiency flaring (combustion) of coproduced natural gas or that the well(s) be connected to a natural gas gathering line so that coproduced natural gas can be sold or used for another beneficial purpose.” The rule applies to emissions from well completions, recompletions and production and storage operations.
     This action fills a regulatory gap regarding emissions from oil and natural gas operations on the reservation for “the particular geologic formations that exits” there and was developed in consultation with the “Three Affiliated Tribes of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation.”

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