PennEnvironment Applauds EPA for Step Forward on Regulating Air Pollution from Gas Drilling


Today, the statewide environmental organization PennEnvironment applauded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the air pollution regulations that the agency proposed today, calling them a step forward in the fight to clean up air pollution in Pennsylvania and nationwide. These newly proposed rules would set more stringent limits to harmful air pollution from oil and natural gas industry operations, including those in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region.

“There has been a growing concern among residents and leaders about unhealthy air pollution from gas drilling,” stated PennEnvironment’s Erika Staaf. “While much of the focus has been on hydraulic fracturing and water contamination, there have been an increasing number of residents living near gas drilling operations who have experienced health risks from this industrial sector.”

Shale gas extraction has become big business across Pennsylvania and many regions of the nation. With it, environmental organizations, local communities and public health experts have raised growing concerns about the several types of harmful air pollution caused by deep-well gas drilling, including:

  •     Smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can lead to increased asthma attacks, hospital admissions, and premature death;
  •     Highly toxic air pollutants such as benzene, ethylbenzene and n-hexane that can cause cancer and other harmful health effects;
  •     Methane, a greenhouse gas that is more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

EPA estimates when the proposed amendments are fully implemented, the combined annual emission reductions will be the following:

  •     Reducing smog forming VOC pollution by 540,000 tons, an industry-wide reduction of 25 percent;
  •     Cutting methane emissions by 3.4 million tons, which is equal to 65 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), a reduction of about 26 percent industry-wide; and
  •     Decreasing emissions of air toxics –38,000 tons, a reduction of nearly 30 percent.

The proposed rules would apply to the more than 25,000 oil and gas wells across the nation that are fractured and re-fractured each year, as well as to storage tanks and other pieces of equipment.

Studies in states such as Texas, Colorado and Wyoming illustrate the types and scale of air pollution that can occur from gas drilling. In Texas, where fracturing in the Barnett Shale has been underway for a decade, a study from the Southern Methodist University found that gas extraction activities produced 70 percent as much smog-forming pollution as all motor vehicles operating in the nine-county Dallas-Fort Worth area. Colorado regulators have already enacted tougher rules to reduce the role of gas extraction in the region’s smog-forming emissions, which exceeded motor vehicle emissions for the entire state. Wyoming’s Sublette County, with a population of less than 9,000, now suffers from unhealthy air pollution more commonly associated with big cities because of the thousands of gas wells there.

Nationwide, the proposal will be the first step toward protecting communities in numerous states with extensive oil and gas drilling operations, including Pennsylvania, Colorado, California, New York and Texas.  Because state air quality regulations must at least be as stringent as federal regulations, the final rules will ultimately provide a critical important safety net for public health.

EPA is seeking public comments on the proposed rules for the next 60 days and will take final action by Feb. 28, 2012. The Agency plans to hold public hearings on the proposals in the Dallas, Denver, and Pittsburgh areas.

“Sadly but not surprisingly, the polluters in the oil and gas industry are pressuring the EPA to delay moving ahead with these critically important proposals to protect public health. For the health of our most vulnerable populations, we must move forward. If the industry feels it’s more important to continue the status quo and put their pollution ahead of the public’s health, they can offer comments during the public comment period,” concluded Staaf.