Positive step, but more needs to be done
( Posted by Grant Maki, Law Fellow, Ohio Environmental Council)
The regulations that U.S. EPA released recently to limit air pollution from oil and natural gas operations have been anticipated for a long time. The rules will greatly reduce emissions of methane, benzene, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These controls are extremely welcome because natural gas extraction currently accounts for 40% of the United States’ emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than CO2.
These pollutants have been linked climate change, smog formation, and health problems such as asthma attacks and cancer.
Once the rules are fully implemented in 2015, EPA estimates that total emissions from natural gas drilling operations will be reduced by:
- 290,000 tons of VOCs
- 1.7 million tons of methane
- 20,000 tons of hazardous chemicals, including benzene
The rules are a significant improvement over current federal and state regulations. This substantial response is prime evidence that U.S. EPA takes the risks that these gas drilling operations pose to human health and the environment seriously enough to warrant concrete action.
A key component of the rule, which will require companies to use what is known as a “green completion” to capture fugitive gasses that escape from the well during fracturing, however, will not go into effect until 2015. Until then, drilling operators will be required to burn off fugitive gasses with a flare.
This “flaring” will drastically reduces pollution compared to letting the gas escape, but it far is less effective than capturing the gasses with modern control technologies.
This two-and-a-half year delay before the rules are fully implemented reduces their effectiveness, and is entirely unnecessary. Ohio’s shale plays are being exploited by national and multinational companies that have the resources to do the right thing, starting now. In fact, many states already require “green completions,” and US EPA estimate that about half of the horizontal fracturing wells in the country are already utilizing “green completion” technology.