In July of 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed its first air rules for the oil and natural gas industries. The rules concerned the reduction of emissions from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other air toxics. Since then, the EPA held three public hearings in September of 2011 and extended the public comment period to the end of November, 2011. On April 17, 2012, the final air rule was issued, making it the first federal standard on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.
The main component of the rule is the implementation of a process known as “reduced emissions completion” or “green completion”. According to the EPA Fact Sheet, during this process, “equipment separates gas and liquid hydrocarbons from the flowback that comes from the well as it is being prepared for production. The gas and hydrocarbons can then be treated and used or sold, avoiding the waste of natural resources that cannot be renewed”.
The EPA expects that once this rule is fully implemented in 2015, a 95% reduction in VOCs will occur from more than 11,000 new hydraulic fracturing wells each year. In addition to VOC emission reduction, the new rule will reduce methane emissions from new and modified wells as well as several air toxics, including benzene which can create potential cancer risks. The EPA estimates the following annual emissions reductions upon full implementation of the rule:
- VOCs: 190,000 to 290,000 tons;
- Air Toxics: 12,000 to 20.000 tons; and
- Methane 1.0 to 1.7 million short tons [about 19 to 33 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e)]
Because gas that is currently going to waste will now be sold, the EPA also expects a cost savings of $11 to $19 million by 2015. The reduction in VOC and other air toxic emissions will improve air quality, protect against cancer risk and reduce health effects associated with exposure to ground-level ozone (smog). The reduction in methane emissions will have and impact on greenhouse gas levels, the cause of climate change.
Existing and new gas wells will have until January 1, 2015 to implement green completion in their operations. During the transition period, facilities will be required to reduce their emissions through the use of combustion devices, or flares.
To learn more about the regulation, click here.