EPA to Slash Air Pollution from 'Fracked' Gas Wells
Cappiello, Dina, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration on Wednesday set the first- ever national standards to control air pollution from gas wells that are drilled using a method called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, but not without making concessions to the oil and gas industry.
President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address strongly backed natural gas drilling as a clean energy source, and recently announced an executive order calling for coordination of federal regulation to ease burdens on producers. But he has come under criticism by the industry and Republicans for policies they say discourage energy development.
Top EPA officials said Wednesday that the new regulations would ensure pollution is controlled without slowing natural gas production.
"By ensuring the capture of gases that were previously released to pollute our air and threaten our climate, these updated standards will protect our health, but also lead to more product for fuel suppliers to bring to market," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a statement.
Much of the air pollution from fracked gas wells is vented when the well transitions from drilling to actual production, a three- to 10-day process that is referred to as "completion."
An earlier version of the air pollution rule would have required companies to install pollution-reducing equipment immediately after the rule was finalized.
Drillers now will be given more than two years to employ technology to reduce emissions of smog- and soot-forming pollutants during that stage. The Environmental Protection Agency will require drillers to burn off gas in the meantime, an alternative that can release smog-forming nitrogen oxides, but will still slash overall emissions.
Industry groups had pushed hard for the delay, saying the equipment to reduce pollution at the wellhead during completion was not readily available. About 25,000 wells a year are being fracked, a process in which water, chemicals and sand are injected at high pressure underground to release trapped natural gas. …