U.S. EPA has torn up a George W. Bush administration memorandum detailing when multiple emission sources from the oil and gas industry must be grouped together, or "aggregated," under air permitting programs.
Gone is the 2007 guidance document to help regulators decide when two or more emission activities should be considered a single source under the Clean Air Act's New Source Review (NSR) and Title V permitting programs.
The Bush-era memo, written by then-acting Assistant Administrator William Wehrum, attempted to simplify the analysis for regulators by emphasizing one of the three criteria for deciding whether the projects are "adjacent or contiguous."
"Given the diverse nature of the oil and gas activities, we believe that proximity is the most informative factor in making source determinations for these industries," Wehrum's memo said. "We do not believe that it is reasonable to aggregate well site activities, and other production field activities that occur over large geographic distances, with the downstream processing plant into a single major stationary source."
But in a Sept. 22 memo, Assistant Air Administrator Gina McCarthy instructed permitting authorities not to rely on the Bush administration's approach.
Rather, McCarthy said, regulators should consider the three regulatory criteria for when projects must be grouped together for permitting. Those criteria: whether the activities are under the control of one person; whether the activities are on contiguous or adjacent properties; and whether they belong to the same industrial grouping.
McCarthy agreed with the Wehrum memo's conclusion that whether or not emission activities should be aggregated must be considered case by case. In some cases, proximity may serve as the overwhelming factor in regulators' determinations, she said.
"However," McCarthy wrote, "such a conclusion can only be justified through reasoned decision making after examining whether other factors are relevant to the analysis."
Jeff Holmstead, former EPA air chief in the Bush administration, said the memo is the latest signal that the Obama administration is trying to make the NSR program more encompassing.
Environmental groups -- particularly those in the West -- "want to be able to use NSR as a tool to be able to go after oil and gas fields," said Holmstead, now an industry attorney at Bracewell & Giuliani.
At EPA, most of the senior political appointees have some connection with the environmental community, Holmstead added. "So you really do see that the agenda of the environmental community ... is being adopted by the new administration."
Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said the new policy has "absolutely nothing to do with holding up projects, but rather ensuring that projects that are making major modifications merely comply with the law."
The Bush administration's interpretation of aggregation "weakened New Source Review to such an extent that many sources that ordinarily would have qualified would have been exempted," Becker said.
Click here to read McCarthy's memo.
Click here to read the Bush administration memo.