EPA to Require TRI Reporting from Natural Gas Processing Facilities

EPA has announced that it will begin requiring natural gas processing facilities to file Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) reports, although the announcement did not include a timeline for doing so. The agency had been under pressure by environmental groups to add the entire Oil and Gas Extraction Section, including well sites, compressor stations, pipelines and small oil and gas facilities to the reporting rule, but declined to do so.

In a letter dated October 22, 2015, Gina McCarthy, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced that the agency was “granting in part and denying in part” a 2012 petition filed by The Environmental Integrity Project and 16 other organizations seeking to subject the entire Oil and Gas Extraction industrial sector to TRI reporting requirements.

The letter constitutes EPA’s formal response to the 2012 petition.

TRI Reports are submitted annually for those facilities that meet the following three criteria:

(1) The facility manufactures, processes, or otherwise uses a TRI-listed chemical in excess of the applicable reporting threshold;

(2) The facility has 10 or more full-time employees (or equivalent); and

(3) The facility is in a TRI-covered industry sector.

Congress established the original list of industry sectors required to file TRI reports, but EPA has discretion to add to or delete from the list. The petition sought to have EPA add all of the Oil and Gas Extraction Sector (SIC code 13), which includes Crude Petroleum and Natural Gas (SIC 1311); Natural Gas Liquids (SIC 1321); Drilling Oil and Gas Wells (SIC 1381); Oil and Gas Field Exploration Services (SIC 1382); and Oil and Gas Field Services, Not Elsewhere Classified (SIC 1389).

EPA determined that Natural Gas Processing Facilities are appropriate for addition to the scope of TRI, and that their addition would meaningfully increase the information available to the public and further the purposes of EPCRA §313. According to EPA’s petition response, approximately half of the 520 or so natural gas processing facilities in the United States are expected to trigger TRI reporting thresholds. EPA declined, however, to add the rest of the Oil and Gas Extraction Sector to the TRI program. EPA noted that, with the exception of natural gas processing facilities, activities in the sector “are often spread over a vast geographical area and require few employees to operate.” Thus, it would be unlikely that either the 10-employee requirement or the chemical threshold levels would be met. As further support for its decision not to include the rest of the sector, EPA pointed out that it is already engaged in a number of rulemaking and other activities targeting the oil and gas industry.

A public notice of formal rulemaking will be forthcoming in order to add Natural Gas Processing Facilities to the scope of TRI reporting, although there is no word yet on how soon that may happen.

A copy of EPA’s response to the petition is available here.

Kathy Milenkovski is an energy and environmental lawyer. She helps clients comply with complex state and federal regulatory programs and represents clients in litigation, appearing in administrative, state and federal courts.
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