Methane from fracking has flown under the regulation-radar for too long, allowing harmful pollution to go unchecked in many states. The Obama administration hopes to address this absurdity by creating limits on methane and other dangerous gases released by fracking operations.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that traps heat at 25 times the rate of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. In the United States, it’s the most commonly emitted greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide.
The administration’s proposal also hopes to address the problem of Volatile Organic Compounds, which create dangerous ozone and can have serious health consequences, especially for children, elderly people, and anyone with prior health conditions.
In areas of heavy fracking in Wyoming, ozone levels have become so high that state officials warned elderly citizens to avoid strenuous outdoor activity and a children’s discovery center purchaed indoor play equipment to avoid having kids play outside.
The proposed limits on harmful gases are a positive step forward given the serious problems associated with the dangerous byproducts of fracking, but it is only a bandaid — not a cure — to the fracking problem.
Decreased air quality is only one of the environmental detriments of fracking. Fracking blasts a mix of toxic chemicals and water into the ground to release gas. Chemicals used include hydrochloric acid, methanol, and hundreds of others –- some of which are known to cause respiratory problems, birth defects, and even cancer.
A portion of this chemical water comes out as waste, which must be disposed. Containing toxic chemicals, high amounts of lead, and even radioactive elements, there is no safe or sustainable way of dealing with this waste. The most common method of disposal is to inject it underground, but this has been linked to water contamination and earthquakes. In Pennsylvania, there have been over 260 cases of water contamination over the last five years, and the Oklahoma Geological Survey linked a rise in earthquakes across the state to underground injection.
Another approach is to treat the wastewater. Under current rules, sewage treatment plants can still treat fracking’s wastewater and release it into rivers, lakes and streams. The problem here is that bromides in wastewater react with chlorine – a common treatment chemical – producing a toxin linked to bladder cancer, miscarriages and stillbirths. In 2011, Pennsylvania officials ordered 15 treatment plants to stop accepting fracking waste when this dangerous toxin was detected in rivers. 
For all of the dangers of this wastewater, the fracking industry remains exempt from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and avoids standard hazardous waste requirements.
If earthquakes and toxic drinking water aren’t bad enough, consider the environmental harm caused by industrializing wilderness with drills and pipelines, disrupting some of our most precious areas and critical habitat for wildlife.
The gases that the EPA’s proposal would regulate are a big issue, but they’re far from fracking’s only problem.
The fact that the Obama administration is finally taking action to control this dirty drilling is a good sign. Perhaps fracking will no longer be able to float along unnoticed while it puts our communities and environment at risk.
While encouraging, to fully protect our drinking water and the health of our families, we need to ban this practice outright and transition to 100 percent clean energy.
Environmental Protection Agency, Overview of Greenhouse Gases: Methane, archived at http://web.archive.org/web/20150827175155/http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/ch4.html
Mead Gruver, “Wyoming’s natural gas boom comes with smog attached” NBCNews.com, 9 March 2011
Center for Environmental Health, Health Impacts, archived at http://web.archive.org/web/20150827180338/http://www.ceh.org/campaigns/fracking/health-impacts/
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Water Supply Determination Letters, August 2015
Office of the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment, Earthquakes in Oklahoma: Oklahoma Geologic Survey, archived at http://web.archive.org/web/20150827181319/http://earthquakes.ok.gov/what-we-are-doing/oklahoma-geological-survey/
Melissae Fellet, “Fracking Wastewater Could Encourage Formation Of Toxic Compounds During Drinking Water Disinfection,” Chemical and Engineering News, 23 September 2014
Jon Hurdle, “EPA’s waste water treatment rule splits environmentalists, industry” NPR State Impact, 16 July 2015