UK Natural Gas
The news comes as a UK government report on Tuesday backed the exploration of shale gas using the controversial hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” drilling method blamed for two small earthquakes in Britain last year. REUTERS

The American Petroleum Institute, the largest oil industry trade group, called upon the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Thursday to improve its air emission standards ahead of their expected unveiling next week.

For the past several months, the EPA has been formulating new air pollution standards for natural gas development that would decrease the permissible amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted into the air.

The EPA is expected to unveil its air standards next Tuesday.

At the heart of the issue, the EPA wants to lower the amount of methane and natural gas inadvertently or purposefully vented into the atmosphere, but Howard Feldman, the API's director of regulatory and scientific affairs, said the proposed regulations take too much of a one-size-fits-all approach to an industry that varies greatly in the type, size and complexity of operations.

Feldman said the API remains critical of the EPA's expected standards and slammed the federal regulator on two fronts.

I want to be clear that we do not oppose these rules. Nonetheless, significant improvements to the rules are crucial to make sure they are workable and achieve emissions reductions cost-effectively and safely, while allowing oil and natural gas development to continue. We hope EPA is taking this opportunity to get these rules right, Feldman said.

Feldman said the natural gas industry is already reducing emissions by collecting and selling vented methane gas. He said the natural gas industry is using equipment it has developed itself, and through the EPA's standards, emission reducing equipment will have to be applied to sources that emit little to no regulated pollutants, and called on the EPA to ensure its standards target significant sources of VOCs.

Feldman said the EPA overestimated the amount of emissions released by the natural gas industry, and failed to take into account that there aren't enough emission capture systems to go around.

The API reported there are roughly 300 air emission capture systems currently in use. Each year an additional 25,000 new wells are drilled, which means the industry does not have enough of the systems to keep up. Additionally, some of the current systems will have to undergo retrofitting to match the standards proposed by the EPA.

The agency will have to give the industry more time to implement the emission standards, so that capture systems can be manufactured and installed without causing undue delays to natural gas development projects, said API president and CEO Jack Gerard in a letter sent Thursday to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.