U.S. Interior Department Finalizes Update of 40-Year Old Offshore Air Quality Regulations

The U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on May 14 issued a final rule to update regulations for oil and gas operations in the central and western Gulf of Mexico and the area off the North Slope Borough of Alaska. The changes do not relax any air pollution standards, but make technical and compliance-related updates.

The changes were initially proposed in 2016 to update air quality regulations for oil, gas, and sulphur operations on the Outer Continental Shelf, including the area off Alaska’s North Slope Borough. The final rule follows the bureau’s review of the proposed updates following President Trump’s 2017 executive order that sought to expand opportunities for offshore energy exploration. The new regulations adopt six notable changes including a requirement that offshore drilling operations must meet national air quality standards. The changes are designed to:

  • Clarify the department’s reporting and compliance requirements regarding the emissions of pollutants defined by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, (NAAQS).
  • Revise the table of “Significance Levels” in the bureau’s existing regulations dating back to 1980 based on values stated in the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations and continue to update the table, saving operators from having to search EPA’s regulations.
  • Adopt new modeling requirements for the criteria pollutants “particulate matter 10” (PM10) and “particulate matter 2.5” (PM2.5) to replaces the previous “total suspended particulates modeling requirements.
  • Update the existing regulations on emissions exemption thresholds to clarify that the formulas apply equally to Development and Production Plans and Development Operations Coordination Documents, and notes that it will not cause a change in practice because they have already been applied in the department’s regulations.
  • Update various terminology for the purpose of clarification, such as replacing the term “air pollutant” with the term “criteria air pollutant” to ensure compliance with the NAAQs.
  • Revise some new air quality spreadsheets, requiring lessee or its designated operator to use these forms for proposed operations in areas of the department’s air quality regulatory jurisdiction.