VALLEY GROVE - President Barack Obama's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday issued the first national standards to control air pollution from fracking operations, which require natural gas drillers to reduce their emissions over the next few years.
"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. 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," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.
According to Jackson, the first phase of the new rules will last until January 2015. From now until then, owners and operators must either burn their emissions or use emissions reduction technology called "green completions," which she said are already widely used at gas wells. In 2015, all new fractured wells will be required to use green completions.
According to natural gas producer Devon Energy Corp., green completions take place after a well has been fracked. Information from Jackson states that such steps will reduce about 95 percent of the "harmful emissions from these wells that contribute to smog and lead to health impacts."
"The cleanup involves removing the water needed to frack the well. During this flow back, natural gas is produced with the water. What makes the well completion 'green,' or environmentally friendly, is that the gas is separated from the water and placed in a pipeline, instead of being released to the atmosphere," Devon states.
Jackson's information also states drillers frack about 13,000 wells each year. As the wells are placed into production, they emit volatile organic compounds. She notes these can lead to "smog formation, and air toxics, including benzene and hexane, which can cause cancer and other serious health effects."
Noting the new rules should reduce methane in the atmosphere, Jackson's statement adds, "Methane, when released directly to the atmosphere, is a potent greenhouse gas - more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide."
Chesapeake Energy, in a recent legal advertisement, notes the company is seeking an air quality permit from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for the "potential to discharge" the following amounts of these materials into the air on an annual basis from the operations at the planned Valley Grove compressor station: carbon dioxide - 93,800 tons; nitrogen oxides - 82.96 tons; carbon monoxide - 16.87 tons; methane - 86.63 tons; carbon dioxide equivalent - 95,667 tons; and formaldehyde - 3.22 tons.
There also will be various amounts of volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, acetaldehyde, acrolein, benzene, ethylbenzene, methanol, n-hexane, toluene, xylenes and nitrous oxide released from this site, according to the company.
Chesapeake is applying for another permit to release formaldehyde, benzene and nitrogen oxides into the air at the Roy Ferrell drilling pad on Laidly Run Road, between Interstate 70 and Dallas, W.Va.
Company spokeswoman Jacque Bland said Chesapeake would be unable to comment for this article late Wednesday.
Last week, Obama announced plans to coordinate the efforts of several federal agencies to evaluate how the federal government should increase oversight of the fracking process itself. Wednesday, his EPA made it clear that air pollution from these same operations must be reduced. Reaction to the new rules among industry leaders, politicians and environmental advocates was mixed.
"An industry that touts its ability to efficiently drill thousands of wells thousands of feet into the earth is crying wolf when it claims it can't build enough tanks to capture wellhead pollution," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, a group that actively opposes almost all fossil fuel usage.
However, Kathryn Klaber, president of the Canonsburg, Pa.-based Marcellus Shale Coalition, called the new measure "mostly workable" for her industry.
"Perhaps most importantly though, in regard to this new and mostly workable rule, is the fact that American natural gas represents a historic opportunity to enhance our nation's environmental health while creating jobs and bolstering energy security," she said.
Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based American Petroleum Institute, said, "This is a large and complicated rulemaking for an industry so critical to the economy, and we need to thoroughly review the final rule to fully understand its impacts."
U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-Charleston, bashed the new rules, noting, "Through regulation, the (Obama) administration has handcuffed production of nearly every natural resource we have, including coal and oil."