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EPA Protects Clean Air Nationwide from Fracking

Agency Finalizes New Safeguards to Curb Cancer-causing Pollution

Additional Contact:

Mike Eisenfeld, San Juan Citizens Alliance New Mexico Energy Coordinator, (505) 360-8994

Denver—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopted new safeguards to protect people from fracking throughout the nation today, finalizing standards that will keep cancer-causing compounds out the air, curb global warming pollution, and ensure that up-to-date emission controls are used across the country.
“These rules are a major American public health milestone.  With our clean air literally being fracked away across the nation, these rules promise to safeguard our communities and keep the dirty process of drilling in check,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director.  “Although we are disappointed that EPA may condone wasteful drilling, on the whole, this is a win-win plan that protects people and promotes responsible energy development.”
The safeguards target toxic air pollution, ensure cost-effective clean air technologies are used throughout the oil and gas industry, and strengthen a critical safety net for public health.
“We are pleased to see the EPA taking such strong steps for our health and welfare,” said Mike Eisenfeld, San Juan Citizens Alliance New Mexico Energy Coordinator.  “We can’t frack our way to clean air, and although we still have work to do to keep people safe, we’re making progress in keeping poisons out of our air and promoting clean energy.”
Spurred by a settlement agreement reached with WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance, in a lawsuit where they were represented by the public interest law firm Earthjustice, the EPA’s rules today follow through with a mandatory duty under the Clean Air Act to keep air quality regulations up-to-date with science.
Most, if not all, of the final safeguards reduce air pollution by encouraging the oil and gas industry to recover more oil and gas, a “win-win” solution.  Among the highlights of the EPA’s final rules, they would:
- Generate a net savings of $11-19 million annually due to increased recovery of methane, otherwise known as natural gas.
- Reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by up to 290,000 tons, an industry-wide reduction of around 15%.  VOCs react with sunlight to form ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog and contain other toxic compounds.
- Reduce methane, a potent greenhouse gas, by 1.7 million tons, which is equal to 33 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.  This will be like eliminating the carbon dioxide emissions of 8 coal-fired power plants.
- Reduce toxic air pollutants, such as benzene, a known carcinogen, by 20,000 tons, around a 25% reduction.
Current regulations are woefully outdated, with some not updated since 1985, and fail to adequately protect public health and welfare.  Compounding these outdated standards it that oil and gas drilling and fracking is taking a heavy toll on air quality.
In many parts of the western United States, for example, drilling and fracking has pushed ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog, above health limits.  In western Wyoming and northeast Utah, smog levels have been higher than in Los Angeles.
Additionally, in western Colorado’s Garfield County, drilling has increased by more than 132 percent since 2004, brining more than 7,000 new wells to the region. According to the State of Colorado, oil and gas operations in the County are responsible for more than 67% percent of all benzene emissions—a known carcinogen.  Studies by the state show that Garfield County residents face higher health risks because of this, in some cases facing an “unacceptable” cancer risk.
These findings were confirmed by a peer-reviewed study slated to be published in the Journal, Science of the Total Environment, which found that people living near fracking face increased health risks due to benzene and other toxic compounds. 
Unfortunately, current federal regulations fail to limit benzene and other toxic emissions from fracking in order to protect public health.
Although WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance are disappointed that the rules postpone requiring green completions for two and a half years and do not directly regulate methane, they admit they are a major step forward.
“More work needs to be done to ensure people are fully protected from drilling and fracking,” said Nichols.  “This is a risky process, we can ill-afford to wait for people to get sick or worse before taking steps to keep harmful air pollution out of the air we breathe.”
Nationwide, the safeguards will be the first step toward protecting communities in a number of states with oil and gas operations, including California, New York, Pennsylvania, Alaska, and Texas.  Because state air quality regulations must at least be as stringent as federal regulations, the final rules will provide a critically important safety net for public health.


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