Federal regulators are set to announce the first set of “national rules” governing air pollution emissions at hydraulic fracturing (fracking) sites.
According to a report, the rules set to be announced today were first proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last summer as the first meaningful steps at establishing rules governing fracking. Until now, the EPA’s so-called regulations have been the basis of widespread criticism as being too lax on the natural gas and oil industries and have allowed drilling to go on almost unchecked.
Local and state officials have attempted to trump the lack of federal regulations by passing their own laws in a reactionary mode, responding to ongoing research which highlights the dangers of fracking drilling. Many of those regulations have been blocked or ignored, putting more pressure on the federal government to gain some sort of control over an industry flaunting environmental and public safety in a rush to collect natural gas through this unproven and largely untested method of getting natural gas and oil from underground shale formations.
Fracking involves the use of hundreds of chemicals, many of them toxic, which are injected into underground wells with hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water, sand, and a drill. When that mix reaches underground shale formations, the rock is broken apart and natural gas is released. The drilling contents and gas are rushed back to the surface, where everything must be collected, the gas being separated from the waste chemicals and water.
While there have been many dangers identified from the fracking waste water, the new EPA rules will concern the air pollution emitted from an active fracking well and the storage containers which hold the chemicals at the site. In addition to the threats fracking poses to local fresh water supplies and the strain it puts on natural resources, the gas which can not be captured at fracking wells has been identified as the leading source of air pollution coming from a fracking well.
People living closest to active fracking wells face the gravest threat to their health and natural resources, including their fresh drinking water supplies. Added to the threats fracking poses to their water, the air surrounding fracking wells has been blamed on myriad health problems, including skin irritations and breathing problems. In some locations where fracking is most prevalent, some neighbors of wells claim going outside poses dangers and they live their lives bunkered inside their homes, afraid to open doors and windows which could allow that polluted air to come inside.
According to the report, the EPA’s regulations would “require companies to use portable equipment to capture this gas that otherwise escapes to the atmosphere or gets burned off in flares” at the fracking site. While this gas can be collected, refined, and sold by fracking companies, the equipment needed to capture it is expensive and clearly wasn’t a priority of an industry which believes billions of dollars in gas deposits exists in underground shale formations.
The EPA regulations have been reviewed by President Barack Obama prior to being released today. Obama sees promise in fracking drilling but also believes the industry did need to be regulated a little stricter than it has to date.