On September 23, 2013, EPA published a final rule amending the new source performance standards (NSPS) for the oil and gas sector. The amendments phase in deadlines for complying with the August 2012 NSPS’s requirements to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds from storage tanks used by the crude oil and natural gas production industry. The original compliance date was October 15, 2013. EPA made these changes in response to petitions for reconsideration and indicated that it is continuing to evaluate other aspects of the petitions.
On September 12, 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a proposed rule to reduce the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for crystalline silica dust, a material used as proppant in hydraulic fracturing. The proposed regulations would reduce the PEL to an across-the-board 8-hour time-weighted average of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air. Current PELs range from 50 to 250 micrograms per cubic meter of air, depending on the form of crystalline silica and whether the applicable workplace is shipyards, construction, or general industry. The proposal also addresses requirements for exposure assessment, preferred methods for controlling exposure, respiratory protection, medical surveillance, hazard communication, and recordkeeping. The proposed rule follows on the heels of a Hazard Alert issued by OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that focuses on worker exposures to airborne silica in the course of hydraulic fracturing operations.
On August 5, 2013, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) and initiated a public scoping process regarding oil and gas leasing and development on public lands in the Hollister Field Office in California. The notice indicated BLM might also amend the Hollister Resource Management Plan (RMP). In its announcement of this undertaking, BLM indicated that the planning process was a “cooperative effort” with the State of California and that it was “in response to a series of legal challenges.” (The legal challenges to which BLM refers include a challenge to a BLM sale of oil and gas leases in which a federal court held that BLM had unreasonably refused to consider drilling projections that included fracking operations.) In its notice of intent, BLM indicated that the EIS will analyze various current or reasonably foreseeable well completion and stimulation practices, including hydraulic fracturing and the use of horizontal drilling. BLM also announced that it would undertake a “separate peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary assessment of the current state of industry practices for well completion and stimulation in California.” BLM indicated that this planning process might also be used to consider amending RMPs for other field offices in California.