Fracking: updated EPA rule

April 19, 2012

April 19, 2012

Last fall, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said EPA would address fracking standards. And they've done it.  gas emissions EPA new rule 2012

EPA released a quiet statement this week saying that half of fractured wells -- used in oil and gas drilling -- already deploy technologies that are "in line with final standards, which slash harmful emissions while reducing cost of compliance."

Ducks in a row  *frack frack frack* There seems to be a lot of noise with little activity around fracking.  Behold, there is action in the bullpen. 

Note, however, that the 'finalized standards' here are not about chemical disclosure in fracking liquid.  The standards are designed to reduce harmful air pollution.  And there is indeed pollution associated with oil and natural gas production.  (As there is with most energy manufacture.)

Harmful chemicals in the air that constitute that pollution include benzene and hexane, among others.  And that's more what we're talking about here. 

Deep breathing  Have you noticed that "clean air" oriented environmental action seems easier to undertake/expedite than chemical oriented, or TSCA specific?  Chemistry will have its day with the kumbaya crowd — thus public momentum — some day, but for now we're still seeing quicker action around clean air rules.

The updated fracking emissions standards:

  1. reduce implementation costs
  2. ensures that standards are achievable
  3. ensures standards can be met by relying on proven, cost-effective technologies and processes already in use at ~ 50% of the fractured natural gas wells in the United States

"The president has been clear that he wants to continue to expand production of important domestic resources like natural gas, and today’s standard supports that goal while making sure these fuels are produced without threatening the health of the American people," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "By ensuring the capture of gases that were previously released to pollute our air and threaten our climate, these updated standards will not only protect our health, but also lead to more product for fuel suppliers to bring to market. They're an important step toward tapping future energy supplies without exposing American families and children to dangerous health threats in the air they breathe.”

EPA’s analysis indicates the final rules are cost-effective.  Largely as they rely on widely available technologies and practices already deployed at approximately half of all fractured wells.

Together, EPA estimates, these rules will result in $11 to $19 million in savings for industry each year. In addition to cutting pollution at the wellhead, EPA’s final standards also address emissions from storage tanks and other equipment. 

EPA fracking standard deadlines   

During the first phase, until January 2015, owners and operators must either flare their emissions or use emissions reduction technology called “green completions,” technologies that are already widely deployed at wells. In 2015, all new fractured wells will be required to use green completions.  The final rule does not require new federal permits. Instead, it sets clear standards and uses enhanced reporting to strengthen transparency and accountability, and ensure compliance, while establishing a consistent set of national standards to safeguard public health and the environment.    

An estimated 13,000 new and existing natural gas wells are fractured or re-fractured each year. As those wells are being prepared for production, they emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which contribute to smog formation, and air toxics, including benzene and hexane, which can cause cancer and other serious health effects. In addition, the rule is expected to yield a significant environmental co-benefit by reducing methane, the primary constituent of natural gas. Methane, when released directly to the atmosphere, is a potent greenhouse gas—more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.  

More information from EPA:

F-R-A-C-K in the U.K.

Meanwhile, for perspective, UK gas 'fracking' got the green light this week, reports Euractiv, the excellent journal for all things EU, environmental, and legal.

Ministers have been advised to allow the controversial practice of fracking for shale gas to be extended in Britain, despite it causing two earthquakes and the emergence of serious doubts over the safety of the wells that have already been drilled.

That advice is from the first official British government report into fracking, published on Tuesday, is all but certain to be accepted by ministers.  Thousands of new wells could be drilled across the UK.  The report, written by Peter Styles, professor at Keele University, Brian Baptie of the British Geological Survey, and Christopher Green, an independent fracking expert, found that fracking "should include a smaller pre-injection and monitoring stage", which did not take place at the existing sites, and called for "an effective monitoring system to provide near real-time locations and magnitudes of any seismic events [as] part of any future fracking operations".