EPA Proposes Pollution Cuts for Oil Production, Gas Fracking

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules to cut pollution from oil and gas exploration and production, including the first U.S. air standards for drilling using hydraulic fracturing.

The proposal, incorporating four air regulations, would cut emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds by about one-fourth, with an almost 95 percent reduction in such discharges from new and updated gas wells using fracturing, or fracking, the federal regulator said today on its website.

Fracking, a technique that injects chemicals and water into rock formations to free trapped gas, has been tied to a rise in smog pollution in rural areas such as western Wyoming. Companies are rushing to use the process to exploit shale-rock formations and President Barack Obama is urging the U.S. to tap gas supplies to become less reliant on foreign fuel.

“This administration has been clear that natural gas is a key component of our clean energy future, and the steps announced today will help ensure responsible production of this domestic energy source,” Gina McCarthy, assistant EPA administrator for air and radiation, said in a statement.

Shale-gas output was 4.87 trillion cubic feet in 2010, a 57 percent increase from 3.11 trillion in 2009, according to Energy Department data.

The proposed EPA rules will cut emissions linked to increased cancer risks, asthma attacks and premature death, McCarthy said.

Capturing Gas

Pollution would by reduced by capturing gas that escapes during extraction, and making that gas available for sale, the agency said. The technology for the process is used by some companies and required in some states, according to the EPA.

The proposed rules would be “extremely cost-effective,” according to the EPA. The combined annual costs to comply would be $754 million in 2015, and the estimated value of the gas made available for sale is $783 million, the agency said.

The EPA said the rules also would lead to a reduction in releases of methane, a greenhouse gas blamed for climate change.

Oil and gas production and processing account for almost 40 percent of all U.S. methane emissions, according to the agency.

The American Petroleum Institute in Washington, the largest U.S. oil and gas lobby, said new rules aren’t needed.

“EPA has already imposed stringent emissions limitations on engines used in oil and gas operations,” Howard Feldman, API director of scientific and regulatory policy, said in a statement.

API Seeks Delay

The API also called on the EPA to delay issuing final regulations until at least August 2012. The agency, under a court deadline to propose updated standards following a lawsuit from environmental groups, is now scheduled to adopt the rules by Feb. 28.

“The proposal will protect communities by reducing exposures to pollutants that can cause cancer, such as benzene, and preventing ‘bad air days’ caused by ozone smog,” said Amy Mall, senior policy analyst at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council.

An EPA update to oil-and-gas emission rules under the Clean Air Act is overdue, said Jeremy Nichols, director of the climate and energy program at Santa Fe, New Mexico-based WildEarth Guardians, one of the groups that sued the EPA in a bid to force an update of standards that haven’t been revised since 1985.

API’s request to delay a new rule “would be seriously misguided,” Nichols said today in an interview.

The rules mark a “major milestone as we work to safeguard our communities from the impacts of unchecked oil and gas drilling,” he said. “Drilling for oil and gas shouldn’t come at the expense of clean air.”

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