Even though methane emissions from oil and gas operations have decreased 20 percent since 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior recently issued new and more stringent regulations which, if they can be achieved at all, will make drilling and production more expensive.
Additionally, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality recently issued a report that shows that Texas ozone levels in 2014 were either equal to or lower than the best levels ever measured in most areas of the state.
“Texas’s air quality has made huge strides in the past few decades,” said the report, published in the April issue of the commission’s Natural Outlook. “Not that long ago, Houston and Los Angeles dueled for the dubious honor of having the worst ozone in the country.”
While emission quality has improved, the EPA has set even more stringent ozone standard of 75 parts per billion (PPB) and has proposed even lower ozone standards in the 65 to 70 ppb range.
“It’s difficult to see how that will be achieved, since NOx emissions have already been drastically reduced, and background levels of ozone entering an area sometime approach or exceed 60 ppb,” the report said.
The oil and gas industry also wonders how it can achieve these extremely low emission goals.
Texas can be proud of its record of emission reductions.
For example, the environmental commission’s report said Houston-area eight-hour ozone levels have improved 29 percent between 2000 and 2014 while the population has increased over 34 percent.
In the Dallas-Fort Worth area eight-hour ozone levels have likewise improved 21 percent during the last 15 years while the population grew more than 29 percent.
The Corpus Christi and Tyler-Longview-Marshall areas have seen 20 and 30 percent reductions in ozone over the last 15 years, respectively.
The Austin-Round Rock and Beaumont-Port Arthur areas have seen ozone improvements of 22 percent and 20 percent during this same period, respectively.
The commission said that nine of the state’s 13 areas that have had at least 15 years of regulatory ozone monitoring recorded the lowest or tied the lowest ozone values in 2014. The two areas that don’t have at least 15 years of monitoring data (Waco and Killeen-Temple-Ft. Hood) also recorded their lowest ozone values in 2014.
The two Texas areas with the largest population, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, were the areas that improved the most, with reductions of 6 and 7 ppb, respectively, in 2013-14.
Reductions in emissions from compressors, pipelines and electricity-generating plants have been a big cause of the reduction within the industry. The general public has help, too, by driving vehicles that emit less pollution.
The rapid expansion of the oil and gas industry since 2000 has also created some cause for concern, but the environmental quality commission said its “scientific studies have not to date seen significant contributions of oil and gas activities to ozone levels in those metropolitan areas.”
Alex Mills is president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers.