Pennsylvania

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EPA Releases New Air Pollution Rules for Fracking

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

A drill site in Susquehanna County before completion.

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued the first federal rules governing air quality for hydro-fracked oil and gas wells. The new regulations stem from a lawsuit filed in 2009, which alleged the agency failed to oversee toxic emissions stemming from the growing oil and natural gas industry. EPA Assistant Administrator from the Office of Air and Radiation, Gina McCarthy, says the new rules will reduce volatile organic compounds, or VOC’s, from fracking sites by 95 percent.

“This reduction would be accomplished primarily through the use of a proven process known as reduced emissions completion or green completion,” said McCarthy during a press teleconference call.

VOC’s and methane escape during the fracking process, which is also referred to as “completion.” The “reduced emission completion” refers to flaring of wells, or burning off the gas as it escapes from a well. The “green completion” process involves capturing the gas that often escapes in the early part of the well completion. McCarthy says the technology does exist, and in fact some drillers are doing green completions today. But she says the rules do not require drillers to do green completions until 2015, in order to let the technology catch-up and become widely available.

“We really wanted to make sure we understood the value of geeen completion,” said McCarthy. “But not require its use before the was technology was widely available.”

Allowing the drillers three years to comply is a change from what had been originally proposed. Industry had lobbied for greater flexibility, saying the rules would slow down production.

McCarthy says the new rules will apply to an estimated 11,000 newly fracked wells each year. Smog-causing VOC’s, methane, and cancer-causing air emissions are all released during the fracking process.  Methane is a greenhouse gas that McCarthy says is 20 times more potent and C02.

Environmentalists praised the action. But the oil and gas industry says these types of regulations should be left to the states.

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