EPA proposes air pollution standards for 'fracking'

The proposed regulations require reductions of smog-forming emissions at new or modified wells that are drilled using hydraulic fracturing.

"This administration has been clear that natural gas is a key component of our clean energy future, and the steps announced today will help ensure responsible production of this domestic energy source," EPA air chief Gina McCarthy said in a statement. "Reducing these emissions will help cut toxic pollution that can increase cancer risks and smog that can cause asthma attacks and premature death — all while giving these operators additional product to bring to market.”

Under the rules, companies would be required to install technology that captures natural gas that escapes during the drilling process. That natural gas can then be sold, resulting in a net savings for the industry of almost $30 million a year, according to EPA.

EPA says the new rules will cut smog-forming emissions by 25 percent across the entire oil-and-gas industry and by 95 percent when it comes to new or modified wells drilled using hydraulic fracturing. The rules would have the additional benefit of slashing methane emissions, EPA says.

The rules also apply to a number of other processes and pieces of equipment used by the oil-and-gas industry, including natural-gas transmission and crude-oil storage tankers.

At the same time, the regulations will reduce ozone levels in areas of the country where oil-and-gas drilling is prevalent, making it easier for those regions to comply with the EPA’s pending ozone standards, the agency said.

Clean Air Watch President Frank O’Donnell said the regulations are a win for the oil industry

“EPA has been so branded by industry as an evil, job killing agency and here is EPA proposing something that appears to be a win-win,” O’Donnell said.

The American Petroleum Institute, a powerful oil industry trade group, said Thursday it will analyze the standards to ensure they don’t stifle oil-and-gas development.

The group also called on EPA to extend by six months its timeline for finalizing the rules “in order to allow adequate time to collect and analyze comments on the proposed rules.”

EPA is slated to finalize the regulations by Feb. 28, 2012.