Temporary Relief – To Prioritize Safety and Meet U.S. Energy Needs
Posted March 27, 2020
America’s natural gas and oil industry is asking a number of federal agencies to allow a temporary pause in certain non-essential federal compliance requirements, because it’s likely there will be limited numbers of industry workers to manage them amid federal and state-directed efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The health and safety of our workers and their communities is this industry’s No. 1 priority. These non-essential requirements reflect that and primarily include recordkeeping, training, flexibility in the timing of routine inspections where there might be manpower issues due to the pandemic and other non-safety provisions.
Industry is not soliciting a regulatory rollback or trying to excuse itself from compliance obligations.
Rather, it asks federal officials to consider that industry, along with every other segment of our society, is focused on slowing the virus’ spread. Temporary relief from non-essential administrative reporting procedures, routine inspections and other provisions – which are built into normal operating procedures – would be helpful during this crisis so that industry can give the highest priority to safely supplying the energy Americans need.
At the same time, industry’s request would help protect federal officials, who otherwise would be traveling to worksites to perform tasks such as collecting signatures on forms. Temporarily pausing a relatively small number of provisions will help keep them and industry employees safe while both comply with federal and state virus orders.
Requests have been sent to EPA, the Homeland Security, Interior and Transportation departments and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. On Thursday, EPA said it would grant relief, specifically acknowledging that the pandemic may affect industry’s ability to perform routine monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training and reporting or certification.
EPA said its policy will be retroactive to March 13, and the agency indicated it will coordinate with other federal agencies in situations where EPA shares jurisdiction over a regulated entity’s environmental compliance obligations.
This is good news and certainly is in keeping with the unusual circumstances we all find ourselves in. API President and CEO Mike Sommers characterized the situation in a letter to President Trump earlier this week:
“We are grateful for the ongoing work of your Administration in providing appropriate guidelines for mitigation of the pandemic. In light of these guidelines, the oil and natural gas industry needs to maintain safe and reliable operations, taking into consideration that there may be limited personnel capacity to manage the full scope of the current regulatory requirements.”
Let’s look at some specifics in industry’s request, underscoring the point that temporarily waiving certain provisions isn’t likely to jeopardize safety, health or the environment. In a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, API’s Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president for policy, economics & regulatory affairs, stressed that industry is committed to “safe and reliable operations,” yet is sensing that given COVID-19 containment orders from different levels of government, there may be limited industry personnel to manage the full scope of regulatory requirements. Macchiarola:
“Individual company requests for relief would be burdensome to file and track and a more holistic approach may be necessary in an unprecedented situation such as the one we are facing. Nonetheless, industry will make efforts to comply with requirements, but obviously the situation may limit some activities.”
Specifically, industry requests temporary relief through enforcement discretion, waivers or revised compliance timeframes and for EPA to publicly provide guidelines related to performance delays stemming from the pandemic. Some examples of provisions, many of them administrative, that should be considered for relief:
- The need for actual signatures or notarization on permit applications and reports.
- Greater flexibility in filing reports because of manpower issues associated with COVID-19.
- Physical challenges with routine on-site testing and monitoring, due to manpower constraints associated with COVID-19.
- Waivers of seasonal fuels requirements – to finish selling winter-blend gasoline that remains in the fuel system (due to the sudden, sharp decrease in demand) before changing to summer blend.
See Macchiarola’s letter for details on other provisions. The request is designed to allow industry to adapt, temporarily, to the realities of working amid the COVID-19 crisis and to protect our workers and federal and state regulatory officials.
Some have already tried to spin a false narrative of regulatory rollbacks and reduced public and environmental safety. These are temporary considerations in the face of a national emergency. Macchiarola:
“The industry is already prioritizing their resources for the continued maintenance of its facilities, which is a business-critical activity. This is necessary to not only provide for the safety of its constrained employee and contractor workforce, but also to continue to produce the fuels that the nation depends upon daily. Operators are continuing to obtain permits for activities that are deemed essential to the safe operation of their facilities.”
The conditions created by COVID-19 are problematic everywhere. As a key driver of the economy and everyday life, our industry continues to be focused on safely and responsibly furnishing the fuels and products that power the nation. Asking federal officials for temporary relief from these non-essential provisions will help support that fundamental mission without compromising safety, public health or the environment. Temporary relief from these requirements will allow operators and suppliers to prioritize their resources on those critical activities to enable the continued production of fuels and products.
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and five grandchildren.
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