CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Obama administration on Thursday proposed for the first time to require the oil and gas industry to control certain air emissions at its wells, in a move aimed at reducing impacts from the growing use of large-scale "fracking" operations.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials issued their draft regulations to comply with a legal settlement reached after environmental groups sued EPA for not updating its standards to keep pace with advancements in industry technologies.
"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," said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. "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."
EPA said its proposal is based on "proven technology and best practices," and could largely be met by capturing natural gas that currently escapes into the air, resulting in more efficient operations along with less air pollution.
The EPA proposal actually includes four new rules: Performance standards to limit emissions from new wells of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs; performance standards for sulfur dioxide emissions; air toxics regulation for oil and natural gas production; and an air toxics standard for natural gas transmission and storage. EPA issued a news release and provided "fact sheets" and summaries, but did not immediately provide reporters or the public with a copy of its actual regulatory language.
Current "new source performance standards" for the industry govern only natural gas processing plants. The new proposal would cover wells, compressors, storage vessels, and other equipment, EPA said.
"EPA's analysis of the proposed changes, which also include requirements for storage tanks and other equipment, show they are highly cost-effective, with a net savings to the industry of tens of millions of dollars annually from the value of natural gas that would no longer escape to the air," EPA said in a statement.