Gazette opinion: New fracking rules will reduce air pollution

Gazette opinion: New fracking rules will reduce air pollution

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Neither side in the debate was celebrating the new Environmental Protection Agency rules announced last week to reduce air pollution from thousands of natural gas wells that undergo hydraulic fracturing every year.

Hydraulic fracturing involves mixing water, chemicals and fine sand and then pumping the solution down gas and oil wells to break up rock formations, opening fissures that allow the gas and oil to be drawn to the surface.

The "fracking" produces air toxics and volatile organic compounds that react with sunlight to create smog that is believed to increase risks to health and safety.

The rules take effect in two months, but the EPA gave the industry almost three years to install the equipment. By 2015, all wells that are fracked must be "green completions." In this process, equipment mounted on trucks capture the waste produced by a well in the first three to 10 days after the fracking mixture is pumped underground. That burst of waste gas, including methane, and liquids can be collected, processed and sold.

The EPA says about half of drilling companies that employ fracking technology already use green-completion processes voluntarily. The states of Colorado and Wyoming require green completions, as do several cities with drilling activity.

Industry representatives said the new rules could hurt business growth, curtail production and make it more difficult for companies to meet the demand for gas and oil, driving up prices. Installing green-completion technology is expensive and takes time. Smaller companies might not have the capital to add the required equipment.

The industry also said the EPA was overstating the benefits of green completion and underestimating the costs of implementation. The agency was accused of overstating its authority by regulating greenhouse gases.

The EPA, under court order to issue the new pollution standards, denied industry requests for exemptions but did grant more time for companies to comply with the new rules.

Environmental groups weren't happy about the transition period, saying that dangerous emissions should be contained immediately. They said three years was too long to wait for full implementation that would affect about 11,000 new wells a year and another 1,200 that are re-fracked.

During the phase-in period, wells not utilizing green-completion technology will be required to burn off the gas instead, producing other pollutants.

The rules, announced just days before the nation observed Earth Day, will safeguard the public while promoting production of natural gas in a environmentally sound way. The EPA believes the green-completion requirement will more than pay for itself.

Such regulations should work to control air pollution without placing onerous burdens on the natural gas industry.

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