The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today issued federal air pollution standards for natural gas fracking that will finally regulate tens of thousands of wells and and other oil and gas production facilities.
EPA updated and broadened two Clean Air Act standards that require pollution technology to control air pollution released during natural gas and oil drilling, pumping, and distribution through pipelines to refineries and other processing facilities.
This pollution is made up of cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that cause region-wide smog - and methane - a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Unfortunately, EPA caved to industry by allowing them to reach compliance in 2015. The delay was the American Petroleum Institute's top demand. They also wanted EPA to exempt many wells from the requirements altogether, but EPA rejected that, reports Bloomberg.
Lobbyists for companies including Devon Energy and Chesapeake Energy tried to delay and scale back the rules and refuted claims that fracking causes air pollution.
"It shouldn't take that long to build more of the truck-mounted rigs that can capture these gases and put them into the pipelines to be sold at a profit instead of leaked into our air," says the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Yes, the methane, for example, that leaks from these processes, can be sold at a profit.
EPA also didn't set strong standards that prevent methane another pollutants from leaking in the first place.
An NRDC report, Leaking Profits, released in March, shows that oil and gas companies can cut methane waste 80% at a profit, using available technologies that will add $2 billion a year to industry's bottom line. That would reduce US methane emissions by a third - equal to closing 50 coal-fired power plants.
Without capturing methane, natural gas is dirtier than coal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
EPA's new rules are the result of a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians and San Juan Citizens Alliance, represented by the public interest law firm Earthjustice. The settlement requires the EPA to follow through with its mandatory duties under the Clean Air Act to keep air quality regulations up-to-date with science.
New York Cities Ban Fracking
Albany, New York is the 96th municipality in the state to ban natural gas fracking, passing it 10-2.
The municipalities that have banned fracking are home to 1.2 million people.
Syracuse and Buffalo have also passed fracking bans, and last month they passed a resolution calling on Governor Cuomo to ban fracking statewide.
"I applaud the Albany Common Council's vote to ban fracking within their city limits," says Buffalo Councilmember Joseph Golombek Jr., sponsor of Buffalo's fracking ban. "Many times, politicians are accused of putting their own interests before the community's. The Albany Common Council's vote, along with the votes conducted by many other municipalities in New York State, show that the citizens of their communities come first, especially when it deals the dangerous impact fracking has on the environment."
Albany and many other municipalities - and Suffolk County on Long Island - have also banned accepting fracking wastes, the toxic wastewater that results from the process. Companies will be looking to wastewater plants to process their wastes.
"Banning fracking from the City of Albany and drilling wastes from our local treatment and disposal facilities is more than just a symbolic act - we are already finding the hazardous by-products of fracking discarded well outside the current zone of drilling, with little state oversight or concern," says Roger Downs, conservation director for the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.
There have been over 1000 reports of contaminated groundwater since fracking began, and studies also link the extraction process to polluted air, disease and death in farm animals and wildlife in addition to humans. It is also connected to the increase in earthquake activity. Doctors have come out against fracking, it's been banned in New Jersey, and other states are considering banning it.
Learn more about the impact of EPA's new rules: