EPA - Washington, D.C., April 18, 2012
EPA Issues Updated, Achievable Air Pollution Standards for Oil and Natural Gas
Half of fractured wells already deploy technologies in line with final standards, which slash harmful emissions while reducing cost of compliance
WASHINGTON – In response to a court deadline, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized standards to reduce harmful air pollution associated with oil and natural gas production. The updated standards, required by the Clean Air Act, were informed by the important feedback from a range of stakeholders including the public, public health groups, states and industry. As a result, the final standards reduce implementation costs while also ensuring they are achievable and can be met by relying on proven, cost-effective technologies as well as processes already in use at approximately half of the fractured natural gas wells in the United States. These technologies will not only reduce 95 percent of the harmful emissions from these wells that contribute to smog and lead to health impacts, they will also enable companies to collect additional natural gas that can be sold. Natural gas is a key component of the nation’s clean energy future and the standards released today make sure that we can continue to expand production of this important domestic resource while reducing impacts to public health, and most importantly builds on steps already being taken by industry leaders.
"The president has been clear that he wants to continue to expand production of important domestic resources like natural gas, and today’s standard supports that goal while making sure these fuels are produced without threatening the health of the American people," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "By ensuring the capture of gases that were previously released to pollute our air and threaten our climate, these updated standards will not only protect our health, but also lead to more product for fuel suppliers to bring to market. They're an important step toward tapping future energy supplies without exposing American families and children to dangerous health threats in the air they breathe.”
When natural gas is produced, some of the gas escapes the well and may not be captured by the producing company. These gases can pollute the air and as a result threaten public health. Consistent with states that have already put in place similar requirements, the updated EPA standards released today include the first federal air rules for natural gas wells that are hydraulically fractured, specifically requiring operators of new fractured natural gas wells to use cost-effective technologies and practices to capture natural gas that might otherwise escape the well, which can subsequently be sold. EPA’s analysis of the final rules shows that they are highly cost-effective, relying on widely available technologies and practices already deployed at approximately half of all fractured wells, and consistent with steps industry is already taking in many cases to capture additional natural gas for sale, offsetting the cost of compliance. Together these rules will result in $11 to $19 million in savings for industry each year. In addition to cutting pollution at the wellhead, EPA’s final standards also address emissions from storage tanks and other equipment.
Also in line with the executive order released by the president last week on natural gas development, the rule released today received important interagency feedback and provides industry flexibilities. Based on new data provided during the public comment period, the final rule establishes a phase-in period that will ensure emissions reduction technology is broadly available. During the first phase, until January 2015, owners and operators must either flare their emissions or use emissions reduction technology called “green completions,” technologies that are already widely deployed at wells. In 2015, all new fractured wells will be required to use green completions. The final rule does not require new federal permits. Instead, it sets clear standards and uses enhanced reporting to strengthen transparency and accountability, and ensure compliance, while establishing a consistent set of national standards to safeguard public health and the environment.
An estimated 13,000 new and existing natural gas wells are fractured or re-fractured each year. As those wells are being prepared for production, they emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which contribute to smog formation, and air toxics, including benzene and hexane, which can cause cancer and other serious health effects. In addition, the rule is expected to yield a significant environmental co-benefit by reducing methane, the primary constituent of natural gas. Methane, when released directly to the atmosphere, is a potent greenhouse gas—more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
During the nearly 100-day public comment period, the agency received more than 150,000 comments on the proposed rules from the public, industry, environmental groups and states. The agency also held three public hearings. The updated standards were informed by the important feedback received through the public comment period, reducing implementation cost and ensuring the achievable standard can be met by relying on proven, cost-effective technologies and processes already in use.
Environmental Groups Praise EPA’s First-Ever Clean Air Protections for Fracking
Joint statement by Sierra Club * Earthjustice * Clean Air Task Force * Environment America * Earthworks * Clean Water Action - April 18, 2012
Agency Takes Important First Step to Protect Air Quality and Public Health
Washington, D.C., April 18—Today environmental groups praised the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) vital updates to nationwide air quality protections to include oil and natural gas production. This is the first federal safeguard aimed at curbing air pollution from hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking.’
The EPA’s New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPS) will benefit the health of Americans and our environment in many ways. The updated standards will result in major reductions in emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), toxic benzene and methane, a highly potent contributor to climate disruption. These pollutants are known to cause asthma attacks, hospital admissions, emergency room visits, cancer and even premature death.
The measure will also benefit the gas industry –EPA projects that capturing more methane and other gasses to send to market will save an estimated $30 million annually.
Today’s announcement by the EPA is a major step forward. However, the two-year delay in reducing pollution from wellheads is an unnecessary setback because industry can meet those standards now. The environmental community is committed to working with EPA to strengthen the public health and air quality safeguards to protect families who live near existing fracking sites.
The EPA proposed the updated safeguards in July 2011. Since the proposal, environmental groups submitted more than 156,000 comments and turned out hundreds of supporters of strong standards to hearings in Pittsburgh, PA, Denver, CO, and Arlington, TX.
In response to EPA’s announcement, environmental leaders released the following statements:
“EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is taking an important first step in closing loopholes for the natural gas industry and addressing dangerous air quality levels in and near frack-fields across the country,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “The natural gas industry dumps massive amounts of air pollutants into our air every day, sickening families and children. An industry that touts its ability to efficiently drill thousands of wells thousands of feet into the earth is crying wolf when it claims it can’t build enough tanks to capture wellhead pollution. It’s time we clean up the natural gas industry’s dirty and reckless practices.”
“From Colorado to Pennsylvania, the gas industry is making a killing from drilling, and at the very least they should cut dirty and dangerous air pollution that threatens our families’ health,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America. “EPA’s action today is a breath of fresh air for every man, woman, and child living in the shadow of the gas drilling boom.”
“Left to its own devices, the oil and gas industry has turned the clear skies over Wyoming as smoggy as the car-choked highways of Los Angeles. For decades, industry had a free pollution pass. Thanks to a court victory, that changes today,” said Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen. “There is more work to be done to protect Americans living near oil and gas fields from cancer and other unacceptable health threats, but this rule from EPA is an important first step.”
“The stories of families hurt by gas drilling’s air pollution were essential to the adoption of these new public health safeguards,” said Bruce Baizel, senior attorney for Earthworks. “Hopefully this much-needed first step will soon be expanded to better protect the families that illustrated the need for the new rules in the first place.”
"These important rules start to cut down on air pollution that harms people living near wells, creates smog, and warms the climate," said David McCabe, senior scientist with Clean Air Task Force. "They are a solid start, but we need to keep working to reduce pollution from the gas industry all the way from the well to the customer. People who live near compressors and equipment already in use need to see their air cleaned up as well. Unfortunately these rules won't do that."
“Our members in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Colorado have suffered because state regulators haven’t acted to control oil and gas operations, so these standards are a win-win-win,” said Lynn Thorp, Clean Water Action National Campaigns Director. “They protect people from air pollution, help curb climate change and save the industry money. People expect the federal government to use their authority to protect their health, their drinking water and the air they breathe and this is a good first step.”