EPA Issues New Air Pollution Standards for Fracking

In response to a court order, the federal Environmental Protection agency has issued a set of new rules (i.e. laws) that will govern air pollution standards at oil and gas drilling sites throughout the country, in particular at wells sites that use hydraulic fracturing. A copy of the 588 pages of new rules is embedded below. A five-page summary of which new rules will apply to gas drillers is also embedded below.

The EPA is trying to sell this as a cost savings for drillers—that they will capture more of the natural gas that currently escapes into the atmosphere—meaning they can sell that gas and profit from it, making the cost to implement the new rules revenue neutral. Of course the opposite is true—as with all things government, the new rules will cost drillers, and by extension landowners, more money to implement. And it gives EPA more control over fracking—something they’ve lusted after for years. Fracking comes under the purview of the individual states. The states alone have the right to regulate oil and gas drilling within their borders. But the federal government, like moths drawn to a flame, can’t help themselves. They want to regulate it.

Here’s the press release announcing the new rules:

In response to a court deadline, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized standards to reduce harmful air pollution associated with oil and natural gas production. The updated standards, required by the Clean Air Act, were informed by the important feedback from a range of stakeholders including the public, public health groups, states and industry. As a result, the final standards reduce implementation costs while also ensuring they are achievable and can be met by relying on proven, cost-effective technologies as well as processes already in use at approximately half of the fractured natural gas wells in the United States. These technologies will not only reduce 95 percent of the harmful emissions from these wells that contribute to smog and lead to health impacts, they will also enable companies to collect additional natural gas that can be sold. Natural gas is a key component of the nation’s clean energy future and the standards released today make sure that we can continue to expand production of this important domestic resource while reducing impacts to public health, and most importantly builds on steps already being taken by industry leaders.

"The president has been clear that he wants to continue to expand production of important domestic resources like natural gas, and today’s standard supports that goal while making sure these fuels are produced without threatening the health of the American people," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "By ensuring the capture of gases that were previously released to pollute our air and threaten our climate, these updated standards will not only protect our health, but also lead to more product for fuel suppliers to bring to market. They’re an important step toward tapping future energy supplies without exposing American families and children to dangerous health threats in the air they breathe.”

When natural gas is produced, some of the gas escapes the well and may not be captured by the producing company. These gases can pollute the air and as a result threaten public health. Consistent with states that have already put in place similar requirements, the updated EPA standards released today include the first federal air rules for natural gas wells that are hydraulically fractured, specifically requiring operators of new fractured natural gas wells to use cost-effective technologies and practices to capture natural gas that might otherwise escape the well, which can subsequently be sold. EPA’s analysis of the final rules shows that they are highly cost-effective, relying on widely available technologies and practices already deployed at approximately half of all fractured wells, and consistent with steps industry is already taking in many cases to capture additional natural gas for sale, offsetting the cost of compliance. Together these rules will result in $11 to $19 million in savings for industry each year. In addition to cutting pollution at the wellhead, EPA’s final standards also address emissions from storage tanks and other equipment.

Also in line with the executive order released by the president last week on natural gas development, the rule released today received important interagency feedback and provides industry flexibilities. Based on new data provided during the public comment period, the final rule establishes a phase-in period that will ensure emissions reduction technology is broadly available. During the first phase, until January 2015, owners and operators must either flare their emissions or use emissions reduction technology called “green completions,” technologies that are already widely deployed at wells. In 2015, all new fractured wells will be required to use green completions. The final rule does not require new federal permits. Instead, it sets clear standards and uses enhanced reporting to strengthen transparency and accountability, and ensure compliance, while establishing a consistent set of national standards to safeguard public health and the environment.

An estimated 13,000 new and existing natural gas wells are fractured or re-fractured each year. As those wells are being prepared for production, they emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which contribute to smog formation, and air toxics, including benzene and hexane, which can cause cancer and other serious health effects. In addition, the rule is expected to yield a significant environmental co-benefit by reducing methane, the primary constituent of natural gas. Methane, when released directly to the atmosphere, is a potent greenhouse gas—more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

During the nearly 100-day public comment period, the agency received more than 150,000 comments on the proposed rules from the public, industry, environmental groups and states. The agency also held three public hearings. The updated standards were informed by the important feedback received through the public comment period, reducing implementation cost and ensuring the achievable standard can be met by relying on proven, cost-effective technologies and processes already in use.

More information: //www.epa.gov/airquality/oilandgas (1)

You can tell whom the EPA is trying to impress by their press release about who’s praising the new rules:

In response to a court deadline, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized standards to reduce harmful air pollution associated with oil and natural gas production. The updated standards, required by the Clean Air Act, were informed by the important feedback from a range of stakeholders including the public, public health groups, states and industry. As a result, the final standards reduce implementation costs while also ensuring they are achievable and can be met by relying on proven, cost-effective technologies as well as processes already in use at approximately half of the fractured natural gas wells in the United States. These technologies will not only reduce 95 percent of the harmful emissions from these wells that contribute to smog and lead to health impacts, they will also enable companies to collect additional natural gas that can be sold. Here’s what people across the country are saying about EPA’s updated, achievable air pollution standards for oil and natural gas:

Albert A. Rizzo, M.D., Chair, Board of Directors of the American Lung Association:
“…The cleanup of air pollution from oil and natural gas wells is essential to protect public health and growing in importance as the industry expands. We applaud EPA’s response to this rapidly expanding source of air pollution…”

Howard Feldman, American Petroleum Institute (API) Director of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs:
“The industry has led efforts to reduce emissions by developing new technologies that were adopted in the rule. EPA has made some improvements in the rules that allow our companies to continue reducing emissions while producing the oil and natural gas our country needs. This is a large and complicated rulemaking for an industry so critical to the economy, and we need to thoroughly review the final rule to fully understand its impacts.”

Lynn Thorp, Clean Water Action National Campaigns Director:
“Our members in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Colorado have suffered because state regulators haven’t acted to control oil and gas operations, so these standards are a win-win-win. They protect people from air pollution, help curb climate change and save the industry money. People expect the federal government to use their authority to protect their health, their drinking water and the air they breathe and this is a good first step.”

Trip Van Noppen, Earthjustice President:
“Left to its own devices, the oil and gas industry has turned the clear skies over Wyoming as smoggy as the car-choked highways of Los Angeles. For decades, industry had a free pollution pass. Thanks to a court victory, that changes today. There is more work to be done to protect Americans living near oil and gas fields from cancer and other unacceptable health threats, but this rule from EPA is an important first step.”

John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America:
“From Colorado to Pennsylvania, the gas industry is making a killing from drilling, and at the very least they should cut dirty and dangerous air pollution that threatens our families’ health. EPA’s action today is a breath of fresh air for every man, woman, and child living in the shadow of the gas drilling boom.”

Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club:
“EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is taking an important first step in closing loopholes for the natural gas industry and addressing dangerous air quality levels in and near frack-fields across the country. The natural gas industry dumps massive amounts of air pollutants into our air every day, sickening families and children. An industry that touts its ability to efficiently drill thousands of wells thousands of feet into the earth is crying wolf when it claims it can’t build enough tanks to capture wellhead pollution. It’s time we clean up the natural gas industry’s dirty and reckless practices.”(2)

Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Environment America…all radical environmentalist groups. And I do mean radical—out of the mainstream and working against the interests of most Americans.

The American Petroleum Institute has given an initial lukewarm endorsement but says it’s going to take time to figure out what the new rules will mean, and how much they’ll cost.

(1) Environmental Protection Agency (Apr 18, 2012) – EPA Issues Updated, Achievable Air Pollution Standards for Oil and Natural Gas

(2) Environmental Protection Agency (Apr 18, 2012) – Statements on EPA’s Updated, Achievable Air Pollution Standards for Oil and Natural Gas

  • Anonymous

    These Federal  air pollution regulations are actually good news for New York drilling prospects because N.Y.S. has already incorporated closed volatile gas collection systems in their  new regs. Since many other states do not, the EPA’s new rules will close the cost gap which has favored  drilling in less regulated states.
     This also favors LPG fracking which requires very little venting anyway  and is designed  to be a completely closed system in order to recover  the propane for reuse. Here again the EPA regulations will close the 18% upfront cost premium for LPG fracking as water frackers will soon have to spend 150,000 $ plus per well to comply although some of that  will be recovered by not flaring methane off for 10 -14 days.
      Jim, I object to the way you vilify the EPA for doing what is , in the end , for our health and safety.
     Like the frog put in a pan of water slowly being heated, we do not realize how much our environment can degrade [ called sensory adaptation ] before we suffer negative health effects. I don’t want to be that boiled frog.

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