Rules passed last week by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) governing the air pollution released from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) wells may be little more than window dressing on a growing problem in the U.S.
Last week, the EPA enacted standards on the gas releases from active fracking wells in the U.S. The rules are not set to go into effect until 2015, when fracking drillers will be required to install “green completion” technology that will capture gases released from wells and storage containers at well sites.
The technology is expensive and with the cost of natural gas hitting record lows recently, the incentive for fracking companies to collect that gas rather than let it burn into the atmosphere has dropped considerably. That is a process known as “flaring” and is commonplace at many wells nationwide. Those who pushed for these rules changes argued that flaring was causing severe air pollution and smog in rural areas near fracking wells.
According to a report from BusinessInsurance.com, these new EPA rules will cause little impact on the fracking industry and that companies using this controversial drilling technique will still face numerous lawsuits in the future over the damage their wells cause people living nearby and to natural resources serving millions of people.
The new rules do not address the main concern over fracking drilling, the damage it’s causing underground. While fracking does pose serious risks to air quality, the impact of drilling underground is likely more severe and the EPA has balked at enacting any sort of meaningful regulations on underground pollution, even denying for a long time that fracking drilling could cause underground contamination of private water wells.
Many people living closest to active fracking wells do complain about the air quality but most are more worried about the impact drilling has on their private water wells. Most lawsuits filed against fracking companies allege the drilling has contaminated their water wells with methane gas and other harmful toxins used or produced in the process that’s leaked through poorly constructed wells underground. These leaks of toxins underground pose immediate threats to groundwater and eventually wells used by people living nearby for drinking water.
For some people, fracking drilling has forced them to find alternative sources of fresh water. In some cases, people complain they’ve been forced to lock windows and keep all fresh air from their homes due to air pollution caused by drilling.
While these regulations are a small step for the EPA, it hardly closes the large loopholes allowed to the industry through a 2005 federal energy bill that relaxed rules on fracking drilling and has led to today’s boom in natural gas production in the U.S. The agency has been under increasing pressure to stop this almost wanton drilling at the expense of the environment and of the health and safety of people living nearby.
It has been nearly two years since the EPA said it would increase the regulations at fracking wells to mitigate the amount of pollution caused by active sites but strong lobbies from the natural gas and drilling industries are thought to be delaying the release of any new rules or even an admission from the agency that fracking can contaminate water underground.