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EPA proposes fracking air pollution rules

By Fritz Mayer
August 4, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC — Critics have long claimed that gas drilling using high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) not only poses a danger to water, it also is a threat to the air.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is prevented from regulating the water aspects of fracking because of a clause in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, but the agency is now taking steps that will impose federal regulations on fracking and drilling as the two activities relate to possible air pollution.

On July 28, the EPA released proposed rules that are intended to significantly cut the amount of emissions that come from leaky compression stations, storage tanks and other equipment. But the agency says the rules will actually save the gas industry money because the gas that is now being lost to waste can be sold to the market and represents about $30 million annually.

When the new rules are fully in place EPA estimates the following: emissions of volatile organic compounds will be down by 25% or 54,000 tons across the nation; emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, will be reduced by 3.4 million tons or about 26%; emissions of other “air toxics,” which are described by the EPA as “pollutants that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects,” will be cut by 38,000 tons or 25%.

The EPA said in a press release the proposed rules would result in a savings to the industry. It said, “EPA estimates the combined annual costs of meeting the proposed requirements would be $754 million in 2015. The estimated value of the natural gas and condensate that would be made available for sale is $783 million – a net savings of $29 million when the rules are combined.

The process is moving forward because of a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens alliance back in January of 2009, charging that the EPA had failed to review air quality standards for the oil and gas industry as it was required to do.

In February 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a settlement that required EPA to undertake a review, and final rules must be issued by February 28, 2012.
Reaction has been predictably mixed.

Kathryn Z. Klaber, president and executive director of the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), issued this statement in response: “While we understand that EPA is required by law to periodically evaluate current standards, this sweeping set of potentially unworkable regulations represents an overreach that could, ironically, undercut the production of American natural gas, an abundant energy resource that is critical to strengthening our nation’s air quality.”