Federal regulators issued first-ever air pollution rules for "fracking" wells this past week, requiring drillers burn or capture the gas and its smog-producing compounds released when the wells are first tapped.
Environmental Protection Agency official Gina McCarthy announced the long-anticipated rules, the first to cover some of the 13,000 wells drilled yearly nationwide that use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to collect natural gas and oil from deep shale layers.
Going into effect in 60 days, the rules cover the period when a well is first drilled when natural gas is still venting but before it begins actual production. In a compromise with the industry, regulators said the drillers can flare, or burn off, the gas for now, a process that can last for weeks. But starting in 2015 they would lose that option. Instead, they'll be required to collect it -- so-called green completion of new fracking wells.
"We wanted to encourage 'green completions' as soon as the technology can become widely available," McCarthy said, explaining the 2015 "phase-in" of the rules. The announcement came in response to a lawsuit involving the Clean Air Act. EPA estimates the rules will cut 95 percent of the smog- related chemicals released by fracking wells, ones linked to asthma, respiratory ailments and cancer.