WEDNESDAY, April 18 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency on Wednesday issued the first national standards
to curb air pollution linked with the controversial practice of
Fracking refers to hydraulic fracturing, a way to obtain natural
gas by forcing fluid into a well to fracture rocks and thus release
Natural gas is being touted by the Obama Administration as a
clean energy source and one that does not rely on foreign
The standards, to take full effect at the beginning of 2015,
"will reduce smog-forming air pollution along with cancer-causing
air toxins," contends Gina McCarthy, an assistant administrator for
the Office of Air and Radiation at the Environmental Protection
"Smog formation has been linked to various health ills including asthma attacks, emergency room visits and premature deaths," she added.
Smog also emits toxins such as benzene that can cause cancer,
said McCarthy, who spoke at a Wednesday news conference.
McCarthy estimated that the rule will cut volatile organic
compounds (VOCs), which contribute to smog by 190,000 to 290,000
tons a year, and benzene by 12,000 to 15,000 tons a year.
Although the rule does not directly target greenhouse gases,
methane levels will also be reduced as a byproduct of technologies
required to meet the tougher standard, she said.
Environmentalists have been concerned about natural gas that
escapes these wells, filtering up into the air and potentially
harming human health.
In a statement released Wednesday, Meleah Geertsma, of the
environmental watchdog group National Resources Defense Council,
called the EPA move "a critical step toward protecting our kids,
our communities and our planet." But Geertsma, an attorney for
NRDC's climate and clean air program, also said that the initiative
does not go far enough. "The EPA needs to do more to protect people
living near oil and gas production facilities," she said.
According to the
Associated Press, last year in western Wyoming fracking resulted in ground-level ozone, the main constituent in smog, at levels that were worse than that seen in smog-ridden Los Angeles.
Benzene levels considered dangerous to human health have been
detected in Dish, Texas, which is near numerous fracking sites, the
AP also reported.
On the other hand, drilling sites in four counties in
not been associated with air emissions problems, the
Operators of new "fracked" natural gas wells will have to
capture any additional natural gas using technologies that are
already available, according to the EPA rules.
They then will be able to sell that extra gas, making the new
regulations ultimately cost-effective and even cost-saving,
Between now and Jan. 1, 2015, natural gas operators must either
"flare" (burn) gas emissions or use "green completions"
technologies to prevent gas from escaping. Starting in 2015,
however, companies will have to use green completions.
"Completion" refers to a process taking place over three to 10 days, as a well transitions from being drilled to actually producing natural gas. Much of the pollution from fracking is thought to be emitted during this period.
The EPA estimates that about 13,000 wells are fractured or
re-fractured each year in the United States. Some states, such as
Colorado and Wyoming, already regulate the fracking industry, the
"This is the first national standard to reduce air pollution from hydraulically fractured wells," McCarthy said. "When implemented, it will require operators to capture gas that would otherwise escape into the air, keeping harmful pollution out of the air."
But the NRDC believes more must be done. In their statement, the
group said it is "disappointed that EPA has allowed industry more
than two and a half years for full compliance. It should not take
that long to build more of the truck-mounted rigs that can capture
these gases and put them into the pipelines to be sold at a profit
instead of leaked into our air."
The NRDC believes the EPA "also needs to set strong standards
that directly curb leakage of methane and other dangerous
pollutants from the existing wells and operations."
Find out more about the new standards for fracking at the
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