EPA Eyes Controls on Air Pollution from Drilling
reports, and wire, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Faced with a natural gas drilling boom that has sullied the air in some parts of the country, the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed for the first time to control air pollution at oil and gas wells, particularly those drilled using a method called hydraulic fracturing.
The proposal, issued to meet a court deadline, addresses air pollution problems reported in places such as Wyoming, Texas, Pennsylvania and Colorado, where new drilling techniques have led to a rush to obtain natural gas that was once considered inaccessible. More than 25,000 wells are being drilled each year by "fracking," a process by which sand, water and chemicals are injected underground to fracture rock so gas can come out.
The proposed regulations are designed to eliminate most releases of smog- and soot-forming pollutants from those wells. New controls on storage tanks, transmission pipelines and other equipment -- at both oil and gas drilling sites on land -- would reduce by a quarter amounts of cancer-causing air pollution and methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, but also one of the most powerful contributors to global warming.
The rules, according to the EPA, actually would save energy companies about $30 million a year because the companies could sell the gas they are forced to collect.
A state study in Pennsylvania of air quality near Marcellus shale drilling sites in four counties found no emissions at levels that would threaten the health of nearby residents or workers.
The state's Department of Environmental Protection did three studies that showed Marcellus drilling sites and compressor stations did not violate short-term pollution standards. The agency has started a long-term study to measure how those low, steady emissions affect air quality, and it is mulling new regulations on compressor stations that may limit their cumulative pollution.
Allegheny County is also starting to explore air emissions from shale gas wells. One of the county Health Department's committees is drafting requirements that drillers notify county health officials at several stages of well development, ultimately so the county can test air pollution there. …