EPA delays ‘fracking’ air pollution rules

The Environmental Protection Agency is again delaying the rollout of final air pollution standards for natural gas wells developed with the controversial method called hydraulic fracturing.

The agency, under a consent decree with environmental groups, faced an April 3 deadline to complete rules to slash smog-forming and toxic emissions from gas wells, compressors, oil storage tanks and other oil-and-gas sector equipment.

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“EPA and parties have agreed to a two-week extension on a consent decree to issue final air rules for the oil and natural gas industry. The agency requested the additional time to fully address the issues raised in the more than 156,000 public comments we received on the proposed rules,” EPA said in a statement Monday.

The rules are aimed at curbing smog-forming volatile organic compounds, emissions of benzene, which are linked to cancer, and releases of methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas.

“The proposal would cut smog-forming volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by nearly one- fourth across the oil and gas industry, including a nearly 95 percent reduction in VOCs emitted from new and modified hydraulically fractured gas wells,” states an EPA summary of the rule. 

“This significant reduction would be accomplished primarily through use of a proven technology to capture natural gas that currently escapes to the air,” the agency said of the rules, which EPA is issuing under a consent decree with WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance.

The rule is one of several Obama administration efforts to toughen oversight of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the method that’s enabling a boom in U.S. natural gas production but bringing pollution concerns along with it.

Fracking involves high-pressure injections of water, chemicals and sand into rock formations in order to open up seams that enable trapped gas to flow.

In addition to EPA plans to set air pollution standards for "fracked" wells, the Interior Department is crafting rules for fracking that occurs on public lands.

The upcoming Interior Department proposal will require disclosure of chemical ingredients injected underground, and will also address well integrity and management of large volumes of wastewater.