EPA on Fracking

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued new fracking regulations. This directly impacts the health of those living near fracking sites, many of whom are rural residents.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a method to harvest natural gas. Chemicals are shot underground to break up rocks, releasing embedded gas. Residents living near fracking sites have reported polluted groundwater and other health dangers.

The new regulations target air pollution. Specifically, when the underground gas rises to the Earth’s surface, it tends to “flare” up before being collected.

Imagine a burst fire hydrant. The water surges out of the ground, until someone shuts the valve. Most of the water is conserved, but that initial squirt is lost.

Natural gas acts in a similar way. Usually, the initial flare up is just absorbed into the atmosphere. And natural gas, or methane (CH4) is a potent greenhouse gas.

The EPA has focused on minimizing the air-pollution effects of fracking. The new regulations compel frackers to capture the methane at the source, instead of letting it slip away.

The biggest benefactors are the people living near natural gas wells. Methane (and other toxic releases) from fracking can cause irreparable harm to humans. On a grander scale, minimizing air-pollution serves us all.

But gas companies will benefit from these regulations too. Methane collected from flare-ups can be sold to consumers like normal. In fact, its estimated that the industry will save $11 to $19 Million per year by following these rules. Most companies haven’t installed collectors because of the initial costs involved. The EPA ruling removes this roadblock.

The standards go into effect in 60 days, but companies have three years to comply. Beginning in 2015, all companies must capture methane. The sooner they install capturing technologies, the better.

The new EPA regulations don’t address all the health concerns of fracking.

But they’re a good start, for both the people living near the wells, and the companies that profit.

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