Natural gas processing plants may soon have to start reporting the toxic chemicals they release. Regulations planned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will require facilities to report emissions of benzene and other toxic air and water pollution to the federal Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).
The decision comes in response to a petition and lawsuit by environmental and open government organizations. It represents the first expansion of the TRI in 20 years, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Announcing the EPA decision to propose regulations, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) quoted statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy which reveal that more than 551 plants across the United States processed more than 19 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2014 — a record high and a 32 percent increase over the last 10 years.
The EPA estimates that more than half of these plants would meet the size thresholds for reporting benzene as well as formaldehyde, hexane and other pollutants to the TRI, an online public database to which most other industries are required to report.
“The oil and gas industry releases an enormous amount of toxic pollutants every year, second only to power plants in emissions,” commented Adam Kron, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project. “With this decision, EPA is taking an important step in the right direction. Public reporting to the Toxics Release Inventory allows communities to measure environmental impacts and plan for their future. It also motivates companies to reduce their toxic footprint, and provides insight into how well our environmental laws are working.”
Under the EPA proposal, gas processing plants would have to start reporting their emissions of toxic chemicals including xylenes (which can cause breathing problems, headaches and fatigue), formaldehyde (which is a carcinogen and can damage the respiratory system) and benzene (which can cause cancer).
In her response to the environmental organizations, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the agency estimates that natural gas processing facilities in the United States manufacture, process or otherwise use more than 25 different TRI-listed chemicals.
The new rules will not cover well sites, compressor stations, pipelines and other smaller facilities that employ fewer than 10 people.