GAO has issued a report on the status of regulatory activities and permitting of air emissions on Alaska’s outer continental shelf (OCS) as follows:
Air emissions from certain oil and gas related operations on the outer continental shelf (OCS), such as from oil and gas exploration, development, and production, are subject to one of two different regulatory programs, depending on the location of the operation. Operations are regulated by either the Department of the Interior or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
According to a Congressional Research Service report, Interior and EPA’s regulatory programs have fundamental differences, in part because they stem from different statutory authorities. Interior’s authority is based on the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953, as amended, which has a goal of offshore energy development and also requires Interior to issue and amend as necessary regulations for compliance with certain national ambient air quality standards to the extent that offshore energy activities significantly affect the air quality of any state.
EPA’s authority is based on the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, which focus on air quality. Interior has jurisdiction over air emissions from operations on the OCS in the western Gulf of Mexico and most of the central Gulf. Additionally, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012, amended the Clean Air Act to transfer regulatory authority for air emissions on the OCS off Alaska’s north coast, including the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, from EPA to Interior. Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is responsible for reviewing and approving plans for exploration, development, and production activities; this process includes projections of air emissions.
EPA has regulatory authority for air emissions from similar sources in all other portions of the OCS. In addition to moving regulatory authority over air emissions from EPA to Interior for the OCS off Alaska’s north coast, the act also mandates GAO to report to Congress on the processes for Interior and EPA permitting of OCS air emission activities in this area. This report discusses the status of such activities.
Since the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 was passed on December 23, 2011, there has been limited activity subject to air emission regulations or permitting on the OCS off Alaska’s north coast, according to Interior and EPA officials. Before the act was passed, EPA had issued to Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc. and Shell Offshore, Inc., collectively, three air emission permits for drilling, exploratory drilling, and other activities on the OCS off Alaska’s north coast. According to an official in BOEM’s Office of Policy, Regulation, and Analysis, after the act passed, Shell conducted exploratory drilling on the OCS off Alaska’s north coast in 2012, but it did so under its existing air emission permits from EPA.
Interior’s air quality regulations have not been substantively updated since 1988, and the department is developing a proposal to amend its current oil and gas air quality regulations. According to BOEM officials, the proposed rule under development will address not only the change in jurisdiction from EPA to Interior for the OCS off Alaska’s north coast, but also update the regulations to reflect changes in pollution standards, modeling, and technology.