EPA’s Proposed New Air Pollution Rules for Hydraulic Fracturing in the Oil and Gas Industries

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday released a 604-page set of rule changes that will force oil and gas drillers that use hydraulic fracturing to use new or improved processes and equipment in an attempt to cut the level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other air pollutants they say are emitted during the completion of new and modified hydraulically fractured wells. There are some 25,000 oil and gas wells that are fracked on land in the U.S. each year, so this is will have a major impact on the entire industry.

The new rules will cost the industry 3/4 of a billion dollars by 2015 according to EPA estimates, although they also say the rule changes mean that more methane (natural gas) will not escape into the atmosphere as it is now, and therefore the cost of complying with the new rules will be offset by extra revenue from selling the gas that doesn’t disappear into the atmosphere—that is, “it all comes out in the wash” and evens out. (Gotta love EPA math.)

The EPA will host several public hearings on the proposed rule changes before making them final by Feb. 28, 2012, a court-ordered date. The EPA is being “forced” to regulate the oil and gas industry by a court order originating from a lawsuit in January 2009 when WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance sued EPA, alleging that the Agency had failed to review the new source performance standards and air toxic standards for the oil and natural gas industry.

Among the items in the proposed EPA rule changes for hydraulic fracturing include:

  • Forces drillers to use special equipment to separate gas and liquid hydrocarbons from the flowback that comes from the well as it is being prepared for production (something called a “green completion”).
  • For those operating compressor plants to move gas along pipelines, centrifugal compressors would have to be equipped with new dry seal systems and reciprocating compressors will need new rod packing systems every 26,000 hours of operation.
  • Pneumatic controllers–automated instruments used for maintaining liquid level, pressure, and temperature at wells, compressor stations and in other places–are usually powered by natural gas. They either need to be replaced by non-natural gas controllers or limited to no more than emitting six cubic feet of gas per hour of operation.
  • New leak detection equipment must be installed at gas processing plants.
  • Glycol dehydrators, which remove excess water vapor from natural gas, can emit benzene (a VOC). An existing rule allows large dehydrators up to one ton per year of benzene emissions. That would be eliminated under the new rules—dehydrators would have to achieve a 95% reduction in their benzene emissions. “Small” dehydrators will also need to reduce emissions.

There’s plenty more. MDN is embedding the EPA’s 8-page fact sheet below. The summary of the proposed changes begins on page 3 of the fact sheet. And below that the full 604-page set of rule changes is embedded.

As with most things the government regulates, these changes are complex and will cost the industry (and ultimately consumers who buy the natural gas) more money. Those who support the new rules will say it will clean the air around gas drilling fields in places like Wyoming where smog is being caused by thousands of gas drilling operations—and it will prevent it from happening in places like the relatively new Marcellus drilling area. Ultimately it will “save lives”—that’s the rationale. Those who oppose it say these rules are difficult at best (and perhaps even impossible) for drillers to comply with, and that the EPA is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist (recent air tests in PA show little or no air pollution from drilling).

Who’s right? You decide.

*EPA Press Release (Jul 28, 2011) – EPA Proposes Air Pollution Standards for Oil and Gas Production/Cost-effective, flexible standards rely on operators’ ability to capture and sell natural gas that currently escapes, threatens air quality

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_T5AQOTQAX3TMF7AVYYRUW3THMY Julieann Wozniak

    About time. A lot of the pollutants generated from Chesapeake’s Wetzel County, WV operations end up in my corner of Greene County, which has air pollution problems of its own from three coal-burning power plants and of course Marcellus shale operations. Real people are being harmed. And real people begged EPA to take action because the DEPs of two states are controlled by industry interests and keep dragging their feet. I can’t buy health insurance at any price, and I’m unwilling to incur health damage and added expense just to protect industry profits, which are obscenely large. A quarter of a million? Drop in the bucket to these people. they spend far more on lobbying and TV propaganda.

  • http://marcellusdrilling.com Jim Willis

    No Julieann, not 1/4 of a million, 3/4 of a billion–and it’s not a drop in the bucket by any stretch.

  • Angelo S

    Great news! Another $750,000,000 going into the national economy for industry upgrades. Hey if we get out in front and lead the development of the new technology we can sell it to all the other countries around the world who will be clamoring for fresh air to breath and clean water to drink.

    It’s too bad we had to depend on the corrupt federal EPA to get it rolling. If the states were’nt being bled for the last 100 years by the IRS, all those confiscated fruits of our labors could have been going into our own states’ economies. We’d be mentally and economically stronger — better stewards of our own environmental treasures — rather than looking to some other power for our protection.

  • Pingback: EPA to Hold Hearings on Rules to Reduce Fracking Air Pollution | Marcellus Drilling News()

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