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EPA releases new standards for drilling operations

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] introduced [press release] a proposal of new regulations [materials] on Thursday to reduce the air pollution left from gas and oil drilling operations. The new standards are updated to include wells that are hydraulically fractured as well as several other technological advancements that cause pollution. The proposal will update four sets of regulations, some that have not been updated since 1985: the New Source Performance Standards, Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) [texts] standards, as well as updating two regulations that apply to glycol dehydrators. If enacted, the proposal is estimated to save $30 million by being able to conserve methane gas more effectively.

Today's proposal would cut smog-forming volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from several types of processes and equipment used in the oil and gas industry, including a 95 percent reduction in VOCs emitted during the completion of new and modified hydraulically fractured wells. This dramatic reduction would largely be accomplished by capturing natural gas that currently escapes to the air and making that gas available for sale through technologies and processes already in use by several companies and required in some states.
The proposal is on a court mandate from January 2009, when the EPA settled a suit [complaint text, PDF] brought by WildEarth Guardians and San Juan Citizens Alliance [advocacy websites]. The suit alleged that the EPA was not protecting people from the harmful air pollutants released by gas and oil drilling, and what little regulations they had in place were outdated. WildEarth Guardians announced their approval [press release] of the new measures, saying: "This proposed protection would help reign in life-threatening pollution from gas drilling for the first time and is a significant step forward in cleaning up a dirty industry." The proposal will undergo three public hearings in Dallas, Texas, Denver, Colorado and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The finals rules must be published by February 28, 2012, under court order.

The EPA has made several efforts at containing air pollution. In March, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] upheld the EPA's approval of caps on motor vehicle emissions in California [JURIST report]. The year before, the EPA proposed stricter smog standards [JURIST report] that would replace the Bush administration's broader 2008 national smog regulations [text], complying with scientific recommendations. In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] vacated a 2006 EPA rule [JURIST report] prohibiting state and local governments from monitoring air pollution below acceptable levels set by the EPA for "stationary" sources such as power plants and factories. The court wrote that the rule violated Title V of the Clean Air Act [text] because the EPA's monitoring protocols themselves violated the Act, and because the rule prevented state and local governments from making up for its shortcomings.

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