BILLINGS – Federal environmental officials said Thursday they plan to reject Montana air quality rules that allow oil and gas companies to obtain emissions permits after they have already started drilling.
The Environmental Protection Agency said the rules do not meet requirements of the Clean Air Act.
Adopted in 2005 and 2006, the rules give companies 60 days after drilling a well to register with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. No emissions permit is required.
More than 900 oil and gas facilities — each with one or more wells — have been registered to date through the state program. But in a Thursday notice announcing its intent to reject those rules, the EPA said the program lacked any enforcement mechanism to ensure pollution limits are not exceeded.
Montana DEQ air resources bureau chief Dave Klemp said the program is more efficient than traditional permitting — without any harm to air quality.
Klemp said it did not make sense for companies to apply for permits before even knowing whether a given drilling location would produce oil or gas.
“We are not sacrificing environmental protection at all,” Klemp said. “We didn’t want to be in the business of permitting dry holes.”
He added that registered wells are held to the same emission standards that would apply to a permitted well.
But a representative of an environmental group that sued the EPA in 2009 to take action on Montana’s rules said the state program was simply too risky.
“We don’t give out building permits after a building is built. This is the same thing,” said Jeremy Nichols with WildEarth Guardians. “We want to make sure these companies have a plan in place to meet the limits. If they can’t, they shouldn’t be allowed to drill a well.”
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