Marcellus Shale operations in Pennsylvania and oil and gas operations nationwide will need to reduce air pollution emissions to comply with new federal rules issued today.
The first comprehensive update in decades of regulations governing the oil and gas operations, the new rules require the drilling industry to capture air pollutants from well-completion work, including hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," pipelines, storage tanks and compressor stations.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said the regulation is "an important step toward tapping future energy supplies without exposing American families and children to dangerous health threats in the air they breathe."
The Obama administration, which has supported development of natural gas shale reserves, has extended the deadline for compliance with the new emissions capture rules by more than two years until Jan. 1, 2015, and exempted wells drilled in low-pressure areas that produce less emissions.
After the rule takes effect in 60 days, new fracked wells must at minimum flare or burn off the volatile organic compounds instead of releasing them into the atmosphere.
The compliance delay is a practical matter.
Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, said the so-called "green completion" equipment required by the rule isn't widely available.
Colin Harris, an oil and gas industry attorney with Bryan Cave HRO in Boulder, Colo., said pushing back the compliance deadline makes sense.
"Without the delay the new source performance standards would have taken effect immediately, so there is a legitimate, practical reason for that exception," he said.
The green well-completion equipment can't operate on wells where the pressure is insufficient to push wet gases up through the well bore hole to the surface, Mr. Harris said.
Ms. McCarthy said the flaring requirement will cut emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds by up to 290,000 tons a year or 95 percent from the 13,000 wells that are fracked annually. It is also designed to reduce emissions of benzene, a human carcinogen, by up to 20,000 tons a year.
When emissions-capturing technology is fully implemented in 2015, it will reduce methane emissions by up to 1.7 million tons a year, offsetting equipment costs and resulting in cost savings of more than $9 million a year, she said.
"These standards are practical, affordable and achievable," Ms. McCarthy said.
Almost 50 percent of fracked wells nationwide already use equipment to capture emissions during well-completion, she said, including all wells in Colorado and Wyoming, states that require its use, as well as urban areas in Texas.
The EPA held heavily attended public hearings on the draft air pollution rule last September in Pittsburgh, Denver and Arlington, Texas, and received more than 150,000 comments from industry, environmental groups, state governments and the public.
As a result of those comments, Ms. McCarthy said, the EPA made changes in the draft rule to extend the compliance time, streamline record keeping and reporting requirements and increase regulatory transparency.
A court order required the EPA to finalize the rules Tuesday.
Although short-term air quality tests conducted by the state Department of Environmental Protection near Marcellus Shale wells found no "air related health issues," air pollution in other states has been linked to oil and gas development operations.
In 2009 Wyoming, citing emissions from oil and gas development in the Green River Basin, asked the EPA to designate the region as not meeting federal ozone standards.
Elevated levels of benzene have been detected at well drilling sites in Texas and Colorado.breaking - region - electionspa - marcellusshale
Don Hopey: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1983. The Associated Press contributed to this report. First Published April 18, 2012 3:00 PM