On May 14, 2020 U.S. Department of the Interior (the Department) and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released the much-awaited final version of the Air Quality Control, Reporting, and Compliance rule (the final rule) to update regulations for oil, gas, and sulfur operations on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) encompassing the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and off the coast of Alaska's North Slope Borough.
BOEM proposed updates to the existing regulations under the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 30, Part 550 on April 5, 2016. Since the proposed updates included major overhauls to the current air quality regulatory program (AQRP), it could have resulted in a significant regulatory and compliance burden on the industry. However, after carefully considering the comments provided by the stakeholders and other interested parties as well as evaluating the proposed revisions in light of Executive Order (E.O.) 13795 titled, “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy,” BOEM retained the fundamental structure of the existing rule and restricted the number of changes in the final rule. Below is the summary of notable changes under the final rule:
- The final rule now includes the definition of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and explicates the Department's statutory responsibility to regulate emissions of all pollutants on the OCS for which a NAAQS is defined.
- The existing Significance Levels (SLs) table is updated in the final rule with values set forth in 40 CFR 51.165(b)(2). The final rule replaces total suspended particulates (TSP) with particulate matter 10 (PM10) and particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) in the list of air pollutants.
- The modeling requirements for TSP are replaced with the modeling requirements for PM10 and PM2.5. This change is also reflected in the air quality review (AQR) spreadsheets to identify, report, and evaluate PM10 and PM2.5 pollutants.
- The final rule replaces the term “air pollutant” with the term “criteria air pollutant” to clarify the intent and to remove any inconsistencies. This change is not substantively different from the existing regulations and will have no effect on the administration of the AQRP.
- The final rule replaces each reference to “emission exemption amount (E)” with “emission exemption threshold (EET)” and clarifies that EET formulas apply equally to Development and Production Plans (DPPs) and Development Operations Coordination Documents (DOCDs).
- Consistent with the final rule, BOEM will update the AQR spreadsheets, BOEM-0138 (for Exploration Plans - EPs) and BOEM-0139 (for DOCDs and DPPs) with more up-to-date emission factors and additional equipment types that are not currently listed in these forms. The revised versions of the AQR spreadsheets will also require reporting of PM10, PM2.5, lead, and ammonia without an EET corresponding to these pollutants. BOEM claims these changes would impose minimal additional efforts on operators.
- BOEM is also overhauling the current practice of including the emissions from support vessels (for example, well-reworking vessels, supply vessels, crew boats, aircrafts etc.) in the EET analysis. Henceforth, emissions generated from a support vessel will not be included in the total emissions from a regulated facility/drilling unit for comparison against EETs unless the support vessel is temporarily connected either to the seabed or to the facility/drilling unit. However, the existing requirements for reporting emissions from support vessels within 25 miles of the facility/drilling unit in the corresponding EP, DPP, or DOCD, as stated in 30 CFR 550.224 and 550.257, are unaltered. Therefore, the support vessel emissions generated within 25 miles of a facility/drilling unit will still be required to be reported.
In conclusion, no significant changes are made to the requirements of preparing and submitting the air quality section of the EP, DPP, and DOCD applications. The AQR spreadsheets will now be more comprehensive with additional equipment types and pollutants with up-to-date emission factors. The revised AQR spreadsheets will exclude emissions from support vessels unless they are connected either to the seabed or to the regulated facility/drilling unit. Similarly, an air quality modeling analysis will henceforth be required in situations when emissions from a regulated facility/drilling unit, exclusive of emissions from support vessels that are not connected to the facility/drilling unit or to the seabed, exceed the respective EETs. The air dispersion modeling results will now be compared against the updated SLs. Additionally, air dispersion modeling will be required for PM10 and PM2.5 if emissions exceed the EET for TSP.