Tough regs to curb fracking leaks are past due

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Joe Nocera’s syndicated column about how a ban on hydraulic fracturing is unrealistic (“Fracking’s Achilles’ Heel: It’s the Methane, But Maybe It Can Be Contained”) oddly starts with a mention of the four Colorado towns that recently voted to ban hydraulic fracturing. There is nothing unrealistic about wanting to promote policies that favor energy efficiency and nonpolluting electricity generation.

In Pennsylvania, releases of high amounts of methane and horrific explosions of natural gas equipment coupled with a clear intermingling of the natural gas industry and state government have justly caused many to lose faith in the regulatory system. That we have to humbly request for shale gas to be drilled safely is insulting.

In Pennsylvania methane emissions from “petroleum and natural gas systems” went from 1,015,751 metric tons in 2011 to 1,139,275 in 2012. That’s a 12 percent increase of the powerful greenhouse gas that can almost entirely be credited to the expansion of shale infrastructure. The story should not be that the Environmental Defense Fund’s diplomatic approach is slowly resulting in fracking regulations, but rather that up until this point the industry has been content to do whatever necessary to make money. Mr. Nocera writes with reverence, “They will have to avoid methane venting from wells.” Why aren’t they already being required to do so?

If similar regulations are passed in Pennsylvania, those concerned will surely be delighted that frackers are pumping less methane into our atmosphere, but that does not mean that the Department of Environmental Protection should be praised for doing its job.


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