Late May Not Be Better Than Never

Posted by By at 8 May, at 07 : 20 AM Print

Last month, the EPA announced new regulations that will require natural gas drillers to capture the methane they ordinarily allow to escape before they cap their well. The new rules take effect in 2015.

Last week, the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, announced proposed regulations that would require drillers to tell us what chemicals they are pumping into the ground – and sometimes spilling onto the ground and into our waters – to release natural gas by fracturing shale thousands of feet underground.

The EPA standards were proposed last summer in response to pressure from citizen and environmental groups complaining about real and anticipated health and pollution problems. Industry groups said the new standards would cost too much money and slow the currently ever-increasing rate of production of natural gas.

Methane often is allowed to leak out of new-fracked wells, in much the way movies in the early part of the last century once depicted black gold blasting out of Texas oil wells. But the the gushing oil, released when the drill punctures an oil pocket, merely makes a mess.

Unfortunately, it turns out methane is about 20 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than oft-mentioned carbon dioxide – the latter a by-product of burning fossil fuels – such as natural gas.

Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA’s office of air and radiation, pointed out some companies already are capturing the gas, and some states (not Pennsylvania) already require it be done. Still, the agency decided to give industry until January 2015 to comply with the new rules.

Clearly, there is no need to act precipitously to obstruct industry efforts to drill thousands of new wells, and dump tons of methane into the air, before the regulations actually take effect.

“The proposed (BLM) rule would require public disclosure of chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing after fracturing operations have been completed,” the bureau said in a press release. (Italics are mine.)

Yes sir, that’s what it said.

After the proposed rules are published in the Federal Register (I cannot find any mention that they have yet been), and after a 60-day public comment period, and after some more months of negotiations to decide how to modify the proposal and put it into effect, and worst of all…

after the fracturing operations have been completed and whatever chemicals are used already have been pumped into the ground and maybe spilled upon it, drillers will have to tell us what they used.

Maybe.

The BLM regulation would apply only to operations on about 756 million acres of federal and Indian lands.

Also, BLM notes, the proposed rules are consistent with those some states have enacted requiring operators to publicly disclose what chemicals are being used on state-owned lands.

Pennsylvania is not one of the states requiring public disclosure.

Many industries, natural gas producers among them, proudly proclaim they are complying with all permits and regulations. BLM notes the proposed new rules would update a reg written long before natural gas could be obtained by drilling a hole a mile and-a-half down, then a couple miles sideways, and then pumping a toxic soup at high pressure into the shale to bust it up and release the gas.

For instance, the current rule says frackers need only notify BLM of planned “nonroutine” operations. Unfortunately, the 30-year-old regulation fails to define “routine” and “nonroutine” operations. The fracking industry undoubtedly considers the majority of its operations “routine,” since BLM estimates it only has been notified of about 20 percent of all drilling and fracking operations.

In the proposed rule, there are no “routine” or “nonroutine” fracking operations; all must be reported.

Since its well-documented meetings with then-Vice-president Dick Cheney, the fracking industry has maintained its recipes are proprietary. If they became public, all companies would benefit unfairly from knowing what chemicals the others are using, drillers claim.

And as with the complaints against the EPA regs, the industry says it will lose money if it has to tell everyone what it’s using to kill them, er, release the gas.

So for the next two years, count on the shale gas industry to speed up drilling new wells in an effort to get them in before the new rules take effect.

And two more years of spewing pollutants into the air and across the ground. Two more years of trusting that we all will come out of this alive.

Sometimes late really is not better than never.

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This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at john@JohnMesseder.com - Email jmesseder

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