Natural gas companies have until Jan. 1, 2015, to install air
emission equipment on hydraulically fractured wells that is
designed to capture and prevent toxins and methane from escaping
into the atmosphere.
The deadline is part of a new set of rules and regulations,
released on Wednesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency, aimed at reducing toxic emissions of volatile organic
compounds (VOCs) that are products of the natural gas drilling
method called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."
EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy said the agency's
new rules, while not specifically targeting greenhouse gases,
have the benefit of also reducing the amount of methane released
into the air.
Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas, and under the new
rules, as much as 1.7 million tons of methane emissions per year
will be cut from the natural gas industry, which emits 40 percent
of the methane released in the United States.
"Today's rules are expected to help reduce smog formation in
areas where natural gas production occurs, and to protect against
cancers from air toxins, and do it in a cost-effective way,"
The rules won't fully take effect until 2015, so as to give
natural gas companies time to gradually comply with the
regulations and order and install the VOC capturing devices. In
the meantime, companies are expected to conduct a "minimum
amount" of flaring, a practice that involves burning VOCs in a
continuous flame at the site of a well.
The American Petroleum Institute, the largest industry trade
group, said the new standards are an improvement over previous
proposals, and that they give companies the time to meet the new
regulations while also being able to maintain production of
"This is a large and complicated rule-making for an industry
so critical to the economy, and we need to thoroughly review the
final rule to fully understand its impacts," said Howard Feldman,
the API's director of regulatory and scientific affairs.