The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday unveiled its first-ever regulations to curb air pollution from hydraulic fracturing, the drilling process commonly known as "fracking" — or in the industry's parlance, "fracing." By 2015, natural-gas and oil drillers will be forced to invest in new equipment that curtails smog-forming emissions from fracing wells.
The process of fracing involves a drilling technique that injects water, sand, and chemicals deep underground to crack shale rock formations and extract vast quantities of fuel, such as oil and natural gas. The new regulations — which also target air emissions from oil tanks, compressors, and other oil- and gas-related equipment — would purportedly slash 95 percent of toxic and smog-forming emissions from fracing wells.
"By ensuring the capture of gases that were previously released to pollute our air and threaten our climate, these updated standards will not only protect our health, but also lead to more product for fuel suppliers to bring to market," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson claimed in a statement. "They're an important step toward tapping future energy supplies without exposing American families and children to dangerous health threats in the air they breathe."
Specifically, the rules would cap emissions on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — which emit smog when reacting with sunlight — as well as limit emissions of carcinogens and methane, a primary component of natural gas and an allegedly dominant contributor to climate change. Most air pollution emitted from gas sites emanates during the "well-completion phase," which transpires after the well is drilled but before the gas is transmitted to pipelines and funneled to process plants, according to Robin Cooley, an attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, which filed a lawsuit against the EPA to push the new standards.
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