Today the EPA finally introduced long-delayed regulations requiring natural gas companies to utilize technologies that reduce or eliminate the emission of smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCS) from fracking. The rule will be rolled out in two stages – the first of which goes into effect in 60 days, and will require newly fracked or refracked wells to use either flaring or green completion technologies to control their emissions. From January 1, 2015 on, all new fracking ventures will be required to use green completion methods, whereby gases which can have devastating health impacts when released are instead recaptured to be be treated and sold. The rules will also apply to new drilling for oil.

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Gas Flare, Natural Gas, VOC emissions, Hydocarbon emissions, Fracking Environment Photo (cc) sirdle on Flickr

Announcing the introduction of the rule, Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, reinforced that “it is vital that we make full use of natural gas resources without compromising health.” She added that exposure to smog formation (including VOC emissions from fracking) is associated with asthma attacks, increased Emergency Room visits, and premature death.

The rule, implemented under the Clean Air Act, has been delayed four times since September. With regulations not due to come into full effect until 2015, Reuters notes that would mark a delay of “more than two years from an initial proposal the agency made in July.” The 2015 compliance deadline is set, according to the EPA, to ensure that companies have time to manufacture, distribute and train staff on the equipment necessary to use green completion methods. These methods are preferable over flaring techniques. Flaring reduces emissions by 95 percent, and while it reduces toxic VOC emissions, it still causes the release of pollutants into the atmosphere. Green completion prevents the release of VOCs, with no ancillary emissions.

Natural gas companies will be able to sell the gas captured through the emission reducing technique, so the EPA believes it will be cost-effective while saving the industry $11-19 million each year by 2015, and each year thereafter. It is hoped that this non-regulatory incentive will encourage companies drilling for oil and gas to become early adopters of the technology.

The gas industry has, inevitably, resisted the EPA’s plans to regulate, but many opponents of the gas-sourcing technique are concerned that the rule has taken too long to come into effect, and that it does too little to regulate an industry believed to be polluting water and causing earthquakes.

+ EPA Clean Air Act

Lead Photo (cc) Ruhrfisch via Wikimedia Commons