U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials just finished up a telephone press briefing in which they discussed and then took a few questions about their new final rule aimed at reducing air emissions from oil and natural gas drilling and production operations that involve hydraulic fracturing. From EPA’s just-issued news release:
In response to a court deadline, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized standards to reduce harmful air pollution associated with oil and natural gas production. The updated standards, required by the Clean Air Act, were informed by the important feedback from a range of stakeholders including the public, public health groups, states and industry.
As a result, the final standards reduce implementation costs while also ensuring they are achievable and can be met by relying on proven, cost-effective technologies as well as processes already in use at approximately half of the fractured natural gas wells in the United States. These technologies will not only reduce 95 percent of the harmful emissions from these wells that contribute to smog and lead to health impacts, they will also enable companies to collect additional natural gas that can be sold.
Natural gas is a key component of the nation’s clean energy future and the standards released today make sure that we can continue to expand production of this important domestic resource while reducing impacts to public health, and most importantly builds on steps already being taken by industry leaders.
Interestingly, special interest groups from both the industry and environmental groups were clearly briefed about the rule and knew details of the final version long before anybody in the general public was able to read the rule.
Word of what’s in the rule first broke from Bloomberg, which reported — based on comments from an industry lobbyist — that EPA had agreed to give gas operators until 2015 to comply with the toughest emissions reductions requirements. First thing this morning, environmental groups were sending out “embargoed” news releases, with their comments on what EPA told them was in the final rule.
Under a legal settlement with environmental groups, this final rule was required to be issued by yesterday. The version posted on EPA’s website today indicates it was signed by agency chief Lisa P. Jackson yesterday, but agency officials have not indicated why they didn’t make it public until this afternoon.
At the start of today’s press call, EPA air quality chief Gina McCarthy made clear the administration’s view on the ongoing boom in natural gas drilling in places like West Virginia:
Natural gas is key to the country’s clean energy future.
EPA officials didn’t dwell on the potential climate change impacts of the natural gas boom, and I didn’t get a chance to ask Gina McCarthy my question, which was going to be about scientific papers like this one from MIT, which warn that the natural gas push threatens to crowd out cleaner renewable energy sources. But in its fact sheet on the final rule, EPA did say:
Today’s rules also would yield significant reductions in methane, a potent greenhouse gas. EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis for the rule estimates the value of the climate co-benefits that would result from this reduction at $440 million annually by 2015. This includes the value of climate-related benefits such as avoided health impacts, crop damage and damage to coastal properties.