EPA’s Draconian Air Pollution Rules Go into Effect, Sort of

EPA logoMarcellus Shale operations in Pennsylvania—and oil and gas operations nationwide—will need to reduce so-called air pollution emissions to comply with new federal rules issued yesterday. And even though the “fix” in “air pollution” regulations was mandated by a kangaroo federal court, the EPA  autocratically delayed implementation for parts of the new standards for more than two years, to Jan. 1, 2015. Why? The stated reason from the EPA is that the equipment drillers will need for “green completions” is not yet widely available.

The real reason for the delay is because Obama wants to remove it as a political issue during his re-election campaign. Just like the tragedy that is nationalized health care, the real “bite” from the new EPA “fix” won’t take effect until midway through what Obama hopes is his second term, when the unpopular parts and the massive expense of the EPA ruling becomes apparent, but it can’t touch Obama politically. Sleazy.

The EPA claims spending huge bucks on new equipment for “green completions” is actually going to save drillers money from the miniscule extra amount of methane they’ll capture. Nobody believes that whopper, but the EPA insists on repeating it endlessly.

Marcellus Shale operations in Pennsylvania and oil and gas operations nationwide will need to reduce air pollution emissions to comply with new federal rules issued today.

The first comprehensive update in decades of regulations governing the oil and gas operations, the new rules require the drilling industry to capture air pollutants from well-completion work, including hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," pipelines, storage tanks and compressor stations.

The Obama administration, which has supported development of natural gas shale reserves, has extended the deadline for compliance with the new emissions capture rules by more than two years until Jan. 1, 2015, and exempted wells drilled in low-pressure areas that produce less emissions.

After the rule takes effect in 60 days, new fracked wells must at minimum flare or burn off the volatile organic compounds instead of releasing them into the atmosphere.

The compliance delay is a practical matter.

Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said the so-called "green completion" equipment required by the rule isn’t widely available.

Ms. McCarthy said the flaring requirement will cut emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds by up to 290,000 tons a year or 95 percent from the 13,000 wells that are fracked annually. It is also designed to reduce emissions of benzene, a human carcinogen, by up to 20,000 tons a year.

When emissions-capturing technology is fully implemented in 2015, it will reduce methane emissions by up to 1.7 million tons a year, offsetting equipment costs and resulting in cost savings of more than $9 million a year, she said.

Almost 50 percent of fracked wells nationwide already use equipment to capture emissions during well-completion, she said, including all wells in Colorado and Wyoming, states that require its use, as well as urban areas in Texas.*

But the real kicker? These new rules, which apply to the Marcellus, are “solving” a problem that doesn’t exist in the Marcellus:

Although short-term air quality tests conducted by the state Department of Environmental Protection near Marcellus Shale wells found no "air related health issues," air pollution in other states has been linked to oil and gas development operations.*

*York (PA) Daily Record/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Jul 4, 2012) – New air-quality rules issued today for Marcellus operations