Another Fracking Problem?

Posted on June 29, 2011

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working to develop new air quality regulations for areas around natural gas production facilities and fracturing rigs, according to a report in the Aspen Daily News. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, interviewed at the Aspen Ideas Festival, said regulations would likely come after the completion of an two-year study.

“You are going to have huge smog problems where you never had them before,” Jackson was quoted as saying. “These are rural areas. ... There is a lot of activity around those wells and that has an impact on air quality — and we know it already. The EPA will soon be coming out with regulations to deal with the air quality around natural gas production.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is also being scrutinized, Jackson said. In the fracking process, a chemical fluid is injected into rock formations at high pressure, causing cracks and fissures through which gas can flow and be extracted. Recently concerns have been raised as to the safety and health effects of the practice, which some suggest may impact ground water and negatively impact local air quality through the escape of gases trapped underground and because of the use of large diesel engines on fracturing rigs.

While the EPA administrator told Congress recently that there are no known cases directly tying fracking to water or air quality issues, the agency did announced earlier this month that it will that it will examine claims of water pollution related to hydraulic fracturing in Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Louisiana.

In Aspen, Jackson said that “if you get a bad operator in there, someone who is not responsible, who is not seeing how important it is to get this right, they can contaminate an aquifer.”

She added that “natural gas production will thrive in this country unless the American people and investors come to believe it’s not going to be financially viable or it’s going to hurt their health ... The way you avoid that is by stepping up to regulation rather than running from it.”