The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held a public hearing in Pittsburgh, Penn. on Tuesday night in a move to advocate its proposed rules to reduce air pollution from oil and gas drilling operations in order to comply with the Clean Air Act.
The EPA proposal, which would apply new pollution control standards to approximately 25,000 gas wells that are hydraulically fractured in the U.S. each year, would require drillers to implement a new technology that would allow them to capture and sell gas that would normally go to waste.
The rules -- spurred by the Clean Air Act, which requires the EPA to regularly review and update its air quality regulations in order to keep pace with science and technology -- would reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by 25 percent. It would also reduce toxic air pollutants by 30 percent and reduce methane emissions by 26 percent, which in itself would be the equivalent of eliminating the carbon dioxide emissions of 15 coal-fired power plants, the EPA reports.
The proposed rules would also save the oil and gas industry about $30 million a year due to the increased recovery of methane. The current EPA timeline would see the rules take effect by the spring of 2012.
Howard Feldman, the director of regulatory and scientific affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, who spoke at Tuesday's hearing, said that while he thinks the EPA proposal is reasonable, he believes the oil and gas industry needs a one-year extension to comply with the new rules, The Associated Press reports.
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We think EPA has done a good job on the rule. We think it's pretty reasonable, Feldman said. We just need a few more accommodations to make this work smoothly.
While some opponents argue that new rules would be expensive to adapt to and may even be a job killer, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said history has shown that is not the case.
In contrast to doomsday a prediction, history has shown, again and again, that we can clean up pollution, create jobs, and grow our economy all at the same time. Over the same 40 years since the Clean Air Act was passed, the Gross Domestic Product of the United States grew by more than 200 percent, she said in a testimony before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, involves blasting large amounts of water, sand and chemicals deep into the ground to break up dense shale rock and allow natural gas to escape. While the natural gas industry insists there are no serious environments impacts as a result of the drilling, there have been several reports that the process may contaminate groundwater sources with radioactive and even carcinogenic chemicals and diminish air quality.
Pennsylvania -- which sits on the Marcellus Shale, a formation located under much of Pennsylvania and New York that contains vast natural gas reservoirs -- has reported a variety of problems associated with nearby fracking.
In April, a blowout at an Allentown natural gas well engaged in fracking spilled thousands of gallons of toxic chemical-laced water, contaminating a stream and forcing seven nearby families to evacuate from the area.
Moreover, while some argue there has never been a documented case of groundwater contamination as a result of fracking, The Wall Street Journal reports that Pennsylvania regulators fined Chesapeake Energy Corp. $900,000 for contaminating the water supplies of 16 homes in Bradford County, while Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. reportedly settled a similar case affecting 19 homes in Dimock for $4.1 million last December.