The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced its National Enforcement Initiatives for 2011 to 2013, which includes the addition of "Energy Extraction Activities" to its enforcement priorities list. According to EPA's website, "some energy extraction activities, such as new techniques for oil and gas extraction and coal mining, pose a risk of pollution of air, surface waters and ground waters if not properly controlled." EPA cites an "unprecedented acceleration of oil and gas leasing and development" as an air pollution concern, particularly in the west. In addition, ground water and drinking water contamination associated with energy production are also identified as potential pollution concerns.
To address these concerns, EPA is developing an initiative to ensure that energy extraction activities are complying with federal environmental requirements. This initiative will be focused on those areas of the country where energy extraction activities are concentrated, and the focus and nature of the enforcement activities will vary with the type of activity and the related pollution problem presented.
In addition to energy extraction, other areas selected for heighted enforcement scrutiny are:
- Discharges of raw sewage and contaminated storm water
- Surface and ground water contamination attributable to concentrated animal feeding operations waste
- Toxic air pollution, including excess emissions caused by failure to comply with restrictions on flaring and leak detection and repair requirements, as well as excess emissions attributable to the start-up, shut-down and malfunction of operations
- New Source Review compliance among major emitters of air pollution, especially the coal-fired utility, cement, glass and acid sectors
- Pollution from waste generated at mineral processing operations
EPA sets national enforcement initiatives every three years. For each area chosen for heightened enforcement scrutiny, EPA assembles a national enforcement team to oversee the initiative and to develop a strategy for achieving specific goals. Once enforcement strategies for national priorities have been developed, EPA assembles teams of EPA headquarters and regional office staff to direct work and set benchmarks for specific strategies. EPA also monitors implementation to ensure that sufficient progress is occurring to achieve the long-term goals set out in the strategy. At the end of the three-year cycle, EPA may decide to keep a particular strategy on its priorities list for the next cycle if sufficient progress has not been made.
EPA has not yet developed the specifics of its strategy for the energy extraction industries, but will be doing so in the near future. In the meantime, increased inspections and enforcement for noncompliance are likely.
We will keep you updated as EPA develops the details of its initiative for this segment of the economy. If you have any questions about environmental compliance, please contact us.