Air Emissions: Status of Regulatory Activities and Permitting on Alaska's Outer Continental Shelf

GAO-14-187R Published: Jan 09, 2014. Publicly Released: Jan 09, 2014.
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What GAO Found

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012, amended the Clean Air Act to transfer regulatory authority for air emissions on the outer continental shelf (OCS) off Alaska's north coast, including the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the Department of the Interior. Since the act was passed on December 23, 2011, there has been limited activity subject to air emission regulations or permitting on the OCS off Alaska's north coast, according to officials at the EPA and Interior. EPA officials stated that, before the act was passed, EPA had issued to Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc. and Shell Offshore, Inc., collectively, three air emission permits for drilling and other activities on the OCS off Alaska's north coast. Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is responsible for reviewing and approving plans for exploration, development, and production activities; this process includes projections of air emissions. According to a BOEM official, after the act passed, Shell conducted exploratory drilling on the OCS off Alaska's north coast in 2012, but it did so under its existing air emissions permits from EPA. Ancillary activities, such as surveys of the seafloor, have also been conducted. On November 6, 2013, Shell requested that its EPA permits be terminated. On the same day, Shell filed an exploration plan with Interior for the 2014 open water season in the Chukchi Sea on the OCS off Alaska's north coast. Interior officials were reviewing Shell's plan at the time this report was issued.

Interior's air quality regulations have not been substantively updated since 1988, and the department is developing a proposal to amend its current oil and gas air quality regulations. According to BOEM officials, the proposed rule under development will address not only the change in jurisdiction from EPA to Interior for the OCS off Alaska's north coast, but also update the regulations to reflect changes in pollution standards, modeling, and technology. For example, BOEM officials said the proposed rule will incorporate by reference current EPA-defined national ambient air quality standards and certain modeling criteria. Interior officials said that the department is still developing the proposed rule changes, including defining the issues that will be addressed in this or future rulemakings, as well as the expected time frames for completion.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012, mandates GAO to report to Congress on the processes for Interior and EPA permitting of OCS air emission activities on the OCS north of Alaska. This report discusses the status of such activities.

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