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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — under pressure from environmentalists and alternative-fuel lobbyists — has just issued 588 pages of new regulations to control alleged “air pollution” from natural-gas wells. All this even though there is not one verifiable instance of properly performed hydraulic fracturing causing direct harm to communities or individuals.
Apparently, the anti-carbon crowd believes that adding another layer of regulatory “oversight,” with its attendant compliance costs, will somehow retard development of this abundant and versatile domestic energy resource. But the EPA may actually have exceeded its mandate with these just-released directives. Under the Clean Air Act, the Agency has authority to regulate emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). But the new rules are focused primarily on methane emissions, even though they’re not currently covered by the Act. In any case, this new set of federal rules largely duplicates state regulations already in place.
When fracking fluids are withdrawn from gas wells, some VOCs, such as benzene, as well as methane, the principal component of natural gas, rise to the surface. A 2010 report from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) found only two cases out of 94 monitoring sites where VOC and methane levels exceeded state guidelines. Responsible drilling companies across the nation already utilize technologies developed in the north Texas Barnett Shale to capture the vast majority of these gases. EPA’s imposition of additional monitoring and reporting requirements will simply drive up the cost of gas production with no significant health or environmental benefits.
In practice, the newly promulgated regulations may not be as draconian as they first appear. The broader issue is whether we want to pursue an energy strategy that encourages or inhibits the production of America’s abundant domestic energy resources. We should keep in mind all the economic and national security benefits that such a decision entails.
Bernard L. Weinstein is Associate Director of the Maguire Energy Institute and an Adjunct Professor of Business Economics in the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University. He has taught at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the State University of New York, the University of Texas at Dallas, and the University of North Texas. He has authored or co-authored numerous books, monographs, and articles on the subjects of economic development, energy security, public policy, and taxation. His work has appeared in professional journals as well as the popular press. He earned an A.B. degree from Dartmouth College and an M.A. and a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University.Full Bio
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