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EPA Takes WYO's Lead in New Fracking Pollution Standards

April 19, 2012

LARAMIE, Wyo. - The Environmental Protection Agency has released new standards to curb air pollution in natural gas drilling - standards based on what Wyoming already enforces.

By January 2015, the EPA says, drillers using hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" will have to add what's known as "green completion technology" to trap gas and fumes which otherwise escape from finished wells.

Developers can recoup their costs for the new technology within just a few months, says Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator at the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation.

"That is an extremely efficient way to capture all of the pollutants and ensure that they're not emitted. It also allows you to capture the gas and condensate for resale, which is why it is the most cost-effective technology."

Starting in June and until the 2015 deadline, drillers have to use another method called "flaring" to minimize the fumes from wells. The agency says the long lead time allows more "green completion" equipment to be manufactured and for workers to be trained to use it.

While environmental groups are pleased with these first-ever air pollution rules for fracking, they're not convinced a 2 1/2-year delay is needed. Attorney Robin Cooley, with the Earthjustice Denver office, worked on the 2009 Colorado case which prompted the rules.

"These rules are long overdue, and industry's been getting a free pass for decades - and we don't think they need any more time. This is an industry that's proven it can go from zero to 60 when it comes to development. There's just no reason to think that they couldn't do the same with respect to air pollution control technology."

The EPA says phasing in the new controls was not politically motivated or based on pressure from the industry. It says about half the wells being drilled already have some form of pollution capture system.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - WY