EPA to reduce discharges into the sea from oil and gas drilling

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its final standards for discharges into water from oil and gas drilling operations using synthetic-based fluids (SBFs) on 22 January, which, it says, will save oil companies $48.9 million per year through increased efficiency.

The EPA expects that the implementation of the new rule will reduce annual discharges of pollutants into water by nearly 54,000 tonnes per year, and cut air emissions by nearly 3,000 tonnes per year. There will also be a reduction in energy use of 200,817 barrels of oil from new and existing sources, says the EPA, resulting in the financial savings to oil companies.

The new regulations apply to oil and natural gas extraction drilling more than three miles from the shore. Those closer to the shore are already covered by a separate effluent guideline allowing no discharges.

The EPA believes that impacts of drilling are primarily due to smothering by the drill cuttings, changes in sediment grain size and composition, resulting in physical alteration of habitat, and absence of oxygen caused by the decomposition of the base fluid, though the affected areas can significantly recover within one or two years. The new standard will require the use of fluids with lower environmental impact, with limitations on the toxicity of the SBF at the point of discharge, and on the volume or concentration of SBFs discharged.

Most of the affected drilling facilities are located beyond three miles from shore in the Gulf of Mexico, beyond three miles off the coast of California, and off Cook Inlet, Alaska.

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