Proposed Regulations Aimed at Fracking Air Pollution Get Support at Western Pennsylvania Hearing

Dozens of people attending a hearing on shale gas drilling in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, yesterday called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement strong air pollution emissions standards for <"">hydraulic fracturing operations. According to the Associated Press, citizens and environmental groups said there should be no delays in implementing the air emission rules proposed by the EPA, because many fracking operations in southwestern Pennsylvania have already caused air pollution problems.

The day-long hearing was convened by the EPA to gather input on proposed air pollution regulations that would reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds by 95 percent from “fracked” wells and 25 percent industrywide. According to the EPA, the proposed regulations would reduce methane emissions by 3.4 million tons, and cut pollution from benzene and other air toxics by 30 percent, according to a report from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The proposed rules would apply to emissions from more than 11,400 new oil and gas wells that are fracked annually and another 14,000 that are refracked, plus storage tanks and other equipment.

The new rules are slated to go into effect in the spring of 2012. According to the Associated Press, the technology needed for drillers to come into compliance would also allow them to capture and sell gas that would normally go to waste; something the EPA said would save the industry $30 million per year.

According to the Post-Gazette, all but a dozen of the 108 speakers who signed up to speak at yesterday’s hearing voiced support for the EPA’s proposed regulations.

Janet McIntyre, a resident of Butler County, just North of Pittsburgh, testified that pollution from fracking operations near her home – including 10 wells, a compressor station and ponds that hold fracking wastewater – have left a foul odor in her neighborhood, and have caused her and many of her neighbors to suffer from headaches, burning eyes and other problems whenever they go outside. According to the Associated Press, McIntyre said despite numerous visits, the Pennsylvania. Department of Environmental Protection hasn’t even taken air quality tests.

“They have taken what is mine and I want it back,” she said of clean air.

According to the Post-Gazette, David McCabe, an atmospheric scientist with the Clean Air Task Force, and Kevin Stewart, director of environmental health for the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, both called on the EPA to “strengthen the proposed rules by expanding its scope to new and existing well and compressor operations, target controls for methane capture and eliminate open-pit wastewater storage.”

Howard Feldman, the director of regulatory and scientific affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, said the industry wasn’t opposed to the new rules, but called on the EPA to extend the public comment period and give companies a one-year extension to comply with them.

“We think EPA has done a good job on the rule. We think it’s pretty reasonable,” Feldman said, according to the Associated Press. “We just need a few more accommodations to make this work smoothly.”

Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, however, insisted the new rules will place a heavy burden on the industry.

“Considering the myriad of regulation changes and additions proposed with this rule-making,” she said, according to the Post-Gazette, “sufficient equipment, manpower and contractors likely will not be available to handle the inevitable rush.”

A court-ordered consent decree mandates that the EPA finalize the new regulations by February 28, 2012.

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