ARLINGTON (AP) – Environmentalists and advocates for drilling companies were expected to face off Thursday when the Environmental Protection Agency holds a public hearing in Arlington on its proposed rules aimed at limiting pollution at oil and gas wells.
Similar hearings were held Tuesday in Pittsburgh and Wednesday in Denver over the agency’s proposed standards to curb hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” by requiring operators to capture and sell natural gas that now escapes into the air.
The rules to be discussed at the Arlington hearing were first announced July 28 after a lawsuit was filed by two Western-based environmental organizations.
The EPA estimated its fully implemented proposal could reduce emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds by about 540,000 tons, or 25 percent. It would reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas methane by about 26 percent and reduce hazardous air pollutants, including benzene, by almost 30 percent.
Though drilling companies would have to spend millions of dollars complying with the rules, the government estimated the industry could save almost $30 million overall in 2015 from selling the captured natural gas.
Trade groups questioned those figures and asked for more time to review them. The Western Energy Alliance and others also urged the agency to ask a judge to push back the Feb. 28 deadline for adopting final rules.
The EPA contends companies could recover its costs of meeting the rules within a year, but Jason Rauen of Enerplus Resources USA Corp. said his company estimates it could take up to five years.
The hydraulic fracturing technique — used with horizontal drilling — allows rich stores of gas to be extracted from once out-of-reach, dense shale formations more than a mile underground. Intense drilling activity is under way in the Barnett Shale of North Texas, the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania, and other producing shale regions around the country.
As tens of thousands of Americans become energy magnates in their own backyards, tens of thousands more worry about environmental dangers. The industry insists the process is safe, for people and the environment.
One side touts the jobs and prosperity drilling brings, allowing businesses to flourish and down-on-their-luck farmers to hang on to their land. Gas leases have made millionaires of some property owners. Regions long struggling economically are suddenly flush.
Critics argue it’s not worth the environmental risk of toxic spills, scattered drill site explosions and tainted drinking water.
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)