Obama Administration Takes Needed First Step to Protect Our Health and Environment from Fracking Air Pollution

Environment Colorado

Washington, DC–Today the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized new national standards to curb dangerous air pollution from gas drilling operations. Environment America praised the measure as an important first step in addressing the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing.

 “For communities living in the face of fracking, these new standards are a breath of fresh air,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney with Environment America. “These standards are a needed first step to protect Americans’ health and environment from the dangers of fracking.”

EPA’s new standards will require the industry to reduce dangerous air pollution from its gas extraction operations. Gas extraction operations are a significant source of air pollution – including cancer-causing benzene, toxic chemicals linked to acute health problems, and smog-forming pollution.

When EPA proposed the air rules last summer, Environment America and its allies highlighted the urgent need to curb toxic air pollution in the wake of the gas drilling boom.  PennEnvironment (the group’s Pennsylvania affiliate) helped organize citizens to participate in the EPA hearing held in Pittsburgh.  Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, testified at the EPA hearing in Arlington.

“We heard the stories of residents experiencing headaches, nausea, asthma attacks, and even hospitalization, as a consequence of gas drilling air pollution near their homes,” said Erika Staaf, advocate for PennEnvironment.

During the official comment period, more than 150,000 citizens indicated their support for the rule.  And when industry sought to pressure the White House into weakening the rule in the past few weeks, upwards of 50,000 people sent emails, phone calls, and otherwise urged the administration to protect public health with a strong rule.

Rumpler noted that the rule is a beginning, rather than the end, of what must be done to curb air pollution from fracking. The Secretary of Energy’s advisory board tasked with reviewing gas drilling called EPA’s proposed rule “a critical step forward,” but acknowledged that even stronger protections would be needed, in its Second Ninety Day Report dated November 18, 2011. As one example, Rumpler observed that the rule does not allow for aggregation of individual gas drilling sources of air pollution, significantly limiting the reach of the rule.   EPA also agreed to delay the requirement for “green completions” – a critical existing technique for curbing major air pollution directly at the wellhead – until 2015, two years beyond what EPA proposed last summer.

Moreover, air pollution is not the only problem posed by fracking.  Toxic-laden fluids and contaminated wastewater have ended up in our drinking water sources; and gas drilling infrastructure is turning forests and rural landscapes into industrial zones. Many– including Environment America—view the practice as inherently destructive and polluting, yet it is exempt from several national environmental laws.

“We commend the administration for taking this crucial first step today,” concluded Rumpler.  “We believe there is much more work to be done for our land, our water, and our health, and we are counting on the administration to do its part to address fracking’s many health and environmental risks.”