Noise Regulations for Oil & Gas
When it comes to regulating noise caused by industrial facilities in the oil and gas industry, the first thing that might come to mind is the worker protections regulated by OSHA (U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration). OSHA establishes an action level of 85 dB(A) for a standard 8-hour work shift and sets the permissible exposure limit (PEL) at 90 dB(A) for the time-weighted average sound exposure. It is fair to say that within the boundaries of an industrial facility, typically there are applicable noise regulations. However, for noise that escapes the facility boundaries, which may impact public and private spaces, there are few, if any, noise regulations applicable to a given project. In this post, we will explore the regulatory landscape pertaining to environmental noise from industrial sources as they might impact people.
Environmental noise limits are much, much lower than the OSHA action level.
I want to take a step back and posit that someone who is familiar with the OSHA noise regulation and associates "85 dB(A)" and "noise goal," in his or her mind, might be in for a rude awakening when approaching his first environmental noise issue. Environmental sound level limits vary widely, but if any generality can be made it is that you are much more likely to encounter an environmental sound level limit of 50 dB(A), rather than OHSA's 85 dB(A). While deemed to be safe to work in for an 8-hour shift, 85 dB(A) is still loud; at that level you must elevate your voice, or even shout to be heard. In stark contrast, one can speak normally in 50 dB(A) surroundings, which is a typical sound level for an office setting. In short, a sound level that is acceptable inside the facility fence will generally be much too loud when tackling an environmental noise issue at or beyond the facility boundaries.
At the Federal level, FERC drives noise regulation.
On the federal level, there is a regulated environmental sound level limit, which can be challenging to meet. However, this sound level limit only applies to specific facilities, namely interstate natural gas compressor stations and LNG terminals regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC" or "Commission") (see CFR 157.206 and 380.12). There is no other federal noise regulation that requires oil and gas facilities to limit environmental noise to a specific sound level.
Several states are noteworthy for noise regulations that potentially pertain to oil and gas facility projects, namely Colorado, Massachusetts, Illinois, and New Jersey. In Colorado, one must be aware of State Statute 25-12-103 and the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) 800 Series rules. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has very specific noise criteria as part of its air pollution control requirements (310 CMR 7). Illinois and New Jersey have very specific sound level limits, which are similar to one another and include octave band sound level limits, as well as dB(A) and impulsive limits.
While Pennsylvania does not strictly have a statewide noise regulation pertaining to oil and gas facilities, the hodgepodge of counties, cities, townships, and boroughs is a veritable minefield of noise control measures, ranging from very onerous, to completely absent. Lycoming County can be particularly challenging. If the project is within Pennsylvania State Forest Lands, noise is regulated by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
Noise Regulation at the Local Level
Noise regulation at the local level appears under municipal codes or zoning ordinances. Many county and municipal governments address noise simply by including it in the catchall nuisance category. However, nuisance is subjective and difficult to establish. Some local regulations that address noise narrow the scope to specific sound sources such as livestock, car radios, and amplified speech/music, but might not address industrial facilities at all. Specific sound level limits at the local level may be found anywhere in the country but are generally more prevalent where there are higher population densities.
This post is focused on oil and gas facilities such as pipeline compressor stations and pump stations, gas plants, and LNG facilities (regassification, liquefaction, and import/export terminals). Noise issues from oil and gas drilling operations are often considered and addressed apart from fixed facilities by regulations and ordinances; sometimes there are specific requirements, and sometimes drilling is simply categorized as construction where noise is addressed as such, if at all. It seems needless to say, however, this is an important point that should be emphasized: applicable noise limits should be researched as part of the regulatory review and permitting phase of every project.
- Environmental noise level limits, when present, are much lower than sound level limits for worker exposure.
- FERC limits sound levels for natural gas compressor stations and LNG facilities under its jurisdiction.
- Several U.S. states have specific, numeric sound level limits that address industrial noise.
- Noise is often addressed at the local level under the nuisance category. Local sound level limits specific to industrial facilities are sparse.
For further reading… A report produced in 2010 by the National Academy of Engineering titled Technology for a Quieter America, contains a wealth of information regarding noise issues. Chapter 8, "The Role of Government" provides a historical "review of federal, state and local government responsibilities." It can be freely downloaded at https://tinyurl.com/y5zhjafl.
About the Author - Tim Simmons, Ph.D. - USSI Director of Industrial Acoustics
Tim Simmons manages USSI's Acoustics Division. Tim comes to USSI with an immense background and knowledge in Acoustics and Noise Control, including software noise modeling. Tim holds a PhD in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Mississippi; and a B.S. in Engineering Physics from the University of Tennessee.