Clean air champions go to court on "fracking" and other drilling air rules
Heavy smoke caused by flaring operations at natural gas well located on state land near Pinedale, WY. (William Belveal)
Last Wednesday, a group of clean air advocates intervened to protect crucial air safeguards that will curb pollution emitted during oil and gas drilling. Unfortunately the state of Texas and their allies with the American Petroleum Institute and a variety of other state alliances of oil and gas companies are pushing back against these necessary protections.
But here are the facts: industry and their allies are hyping natural gas as a miracle fuel, yet the gas drilling sector—which includes the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”—has worsened air quality around the country. In some parts of the country undergoing a gas drilling boom, air quality has fallen below levels the EPA determined to be safe. This is a growing problem that is wreaking havoc on our lungs.
Specifically, areas near fracking operations have been experiencing vast amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions as well as toxic benzene in the air. These pollutants are known to cause asthma attacks, hospital admissions, emergency room visits, cancer and even premature death. EPA’s new rules will require natural gas wells and other operations to take additional precautions to prevent dangerous air pollution from entering the environment in communities around the United States that are bearing the brunt of the natural gas industry’s expansion.
Of course we had to do something to protect local communities. So, we sued the EPA to come up with regulations and the agency responded by signing a rule back in April. These were the first-ever federal safeguards aimed at curbing air pollution from natural gas wells. Americans need these protections to stand, and for EPA to strengthen them.
Now we are going to court to help protect the EPA’s first important step at regulating air pollution from the oil and gas sector from being weakened by an industry lawsuit.
But also, the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to do more. We are calling on the agency to restrict the amount of harmful methane and strengthen health protections for the communities most exposed to oil and gas pollution.
Unfortunately, the EPA bowed to industry pressure and issued final rules that weren’t as protective as they need to be. For example, the rules fail to regulate significant sources of toxic pollution generated by oil and gas production activities, and in some cases fail to match toxic pollution controls already being achieved by the industry.
In addition, the rules completely fail to require any reductions in methane pollution from this industry. While the rules do achieve some methane reductions as “co-benefits,” those reductions are not enough, and not enforceable. Methane is a highly-potent greenhouse gas, and according to the EPA, oil and gas operations are the largest source of methane in the U.S. Capturing this gas is a win-win; it will reduce pollution, avoid waste of a domestic energy source, and, in many cases, generate revenue for the industry, which can sell it.