EnergyFederalEPA Halts Permian Basin Ozone Regulation Effort After Pushback from Texas Officials

Abbott previously alleged the administration had based its investigation on faulty ozone data.
January 6, 2023
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The federal government backed off its plan to designate portions of the Permian Basin “non-attainment,” a decision that would bring on more intense oversight of the nation’s largest oil and gas-producing region.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began discussions on the designation and planned for a final rule to be adopted in September. The agency had taken ozone readings from El Paso and Carlsbad, New Mexico that showed readings of more than 70 parts per billion (PPB)  —  the point at which the agency deems air quality unsafe for humans.

A reading at the time in Hobbs, New Mexico — according to a letter from Gov. Greg Abbott — showed 66 PPB, below the line and in an area closer to most of the Permian Basin Texas counties. There are no ozone meters within the Texas side of the Permian Basin.

But now, the issue is considered inactive with a potential for revisiting down the road.

If designated non-attainment, regulatory mandates such as travel control measures, vapor recovery technology, emissions offsets, and cleaner fuel use may be implemented.

The Texan Tumbler

The agency told Bloomberg in a statement, “If EPA decides to advance this action, EPA would initiate the redesignations process by sending a notification letter to the appropriate state governors soliciting their input and recommendations.”

As part of a potential redesignations effort, EPA would also provide an opportunity for public comment on the action.”

Abbott cautiously celebrated the decision in a statement, saying, “The Permian Basin is the crown jewel of Texas’ mighty oil and gas industry, and the State of Texas will do whatever it takes to protect its production and the hundreds of thousands of good-paying energy jobs in our state.”

“While it is encouraging news that the Biden Administration has backed down on this disastrous plan, Texas remains ready to fight any job-killing attacks on our critical oil and gas industry. Texas is — and always will be — a pro-energy state, and we will keep a watchful eye for any potential changes or attacks by President Biden that could jeopardize affordable energy prices and the livelihoods of hardworking Texans.”

The EPA has another set of regulations — “promulgation of an air quality implementation plan” — in the hopper with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking set for March this year and a final rule scheduled for December.

Ed Longanecker, president of the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, said in a statement, “We are relieved to learn that the EPA at this time has decided not to pursue policy changes that would designate portions of the Permian Basin as being in ‘nonattainment’ of federal air standards, something our association has fiercely advocated against.”

The wide-open spaces of West Texas and Eastern New Mexico are home to the oil and natural gas that fuel our economy and enhance modern life,” Texas Oil and Gas Association President Todd Staples said in a statement. “Carbon dioxide, methane, and other related emissions have been declining substantially over the last few years and operators are focused on continued good environmental stewardship.”

Texas and the Permian Basin have increasingly fallen under the watchful eye of the Biden administration; the president campaigned on increased environmental regulation while trying to toe the fault line between the environmentalist left and the blue collar base reliant on fossil fuels.

In August, the agency conducted flyover emissions inspections with infrared cameras that can show gas and vapor emissions invisible to the naked eye but with little ability to distinguish the types of emissions themselves.

Carbon dioxide emissions in Texas increased 1.4 percent from 2010 to 2020 according to the Energy Information Administration. That growth shoots up to 11 percent if one stops at 2019 and leaves out 2020’s disruptions to the energy industry. During the last decade, Texas oil production increased 320 percent, the lion’s share of which came from the Permian Basin.

An analysis by Texans for Natural Gas showed that flaring intensity — a measure of gas flared per barrel of oil produced — dropped 76 percent last decade.

Average gas prices across the state dropped below $3.00 per gallon in mid-November and have remained under that line ever since — though the most recent week saw a $0.25 increase.

The state-federal fight over energy continues and Texas is at its center.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.