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Producers Get Update On TCEQ Rule

Geoff Folsom
Odessa American
July 13, 2010

MIDLAND- Representatives from the state’s environmental regulatory agency gave local oil and gas producers an update Tuesday on changes coming down the pipeline.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was at the Petroleum Club of Midland to receive input from members of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association on TCEQ’s planned Permit by Rule standards for oil and gas production facilities.
“It is very important for us to get out here and listen to the concerns that you have,” TCEQ executive director Mark Vickery told the audience of 125 people.

TCEQ has already implemented Permit by Rule for refineries and chemical and carbon black plants, said Richard Hyde, the agency’s deputy director. It will begin the permitting for power plants next year and plans to implement the changes for oil and gas facilities by Jan. 1, 2012.

Currently, the TCEQ is only told how many wellheads there are, not specific equipment being used. Vickery hopes new laws will change that.

“One of the key things is tell us where you are and what you are doing,” he said.
The new permits would help simplify the process by creating a standard permit that covers “everything,” Hyde said. The new permits seek to update administrative and technical requirements and include practically enforceable monitoring, sampling and record keeping requirements, while allowing the commission to more effectively focus its resources on facilities that significantly contribute to air pollution.

“You’ve got one permit, and you’re good,” Hyde said.

A need for new regulations arose after an explosion in drilling in recent years, Hyde said. Among the issues is development near residential areas. He showed pictures of a tank battery in the Barnett Shale near Fort Worth that was less than 100 feet from a home.

“This area is exploding in some areas, and we needed to be able to address it, and our existing rule did not,” he said.

Among the rules changes that could be implemented are registration requirements for new facilities or for current facilities planning to increase emissions. Restrictions will also be placed on open-ended pipelines and open-top tanks. In addition, TCEQ would put rules in place making white its preferred paint color for tanks, since Hyde said tanks painted white have lower emissions.

Vickery said TCEQ needs to make adjustments because it hasn’t made substantial changes to its permitting standards since 1986. Since then, its technology has picked up, particularly with the agency’s ability to detect emissions using infrared cameras. He called the cameras a “game changer.”

“We literally see emissions that we would not have been able to have seen before,” he said.

He also took some shots at a common foe of the TCEQ and many in the oil and gas business — the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The federal and state agencies have been at odds since the EPA took over the operating permit of a Flint Hills Resources refinery in Corpus Christi in May.

“In some areas we need to have some robust arguments and, frankly, a lawsuit, and we’re pursuing some of them,” Vickery said.

While he said Texas is already seeing results of air quality initiatives, Vickery said new federal proposals would be unreasonable.

“If this hits the low range (of proposed emissions standards limits), Big Bend National Park is out of the range for ozone,” he said.

Some in the audience had concerns about how wellheads would be treated in the permitting process. While he said the TCEQ understands the concerns of the industry, Sam Small, who owns a Hobbs, N.M. consulting firm, said the EPA could force the state agency into more regulations.

“You’re looking at a huge burden on the industry in the permitting process,” he said.
But Small was pleased that TCEQ came to hear the industry’s concerns.
“I’m glad they came out,” he said. “It shows they’re asking for our ideas and feedback.”

Schedule for adopting Permit by Rule:
>> July 28: Rule proposal.
>> Sept. 14: Public hearing in Austin.
>> Jan. 12, 2011: Adopted.
>> Jan. 1, 2012: Laws go into effect.