New EPA regulations aim to cut oil, natural gas emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed new regulations Thursday that it said would dramatically reduce polluting emissions from oil and natural gas operations, with "a net savings to the industry of tens of millions of dollars annually from the value of natural gas that no longer would escape in the air."

The regulations would apply to new wells that are hydraulically fractured to stimulate greater production, as well as older wells that are re-fractured. They would also cover facilities such as natural gas processing plants, gas compressor stations and storage tanks at well sites.

"Reducing these emissions will help cut toxic pollution that can increase cancer risks and smog that can cause asthma attacks and premature death -- all while giving these [oil and gas] operators additional product to bring to market," EPA official Gina McCarthy said in a statement.

The regulations would take effect Feb. 28 after a comment period that would include public hearings "in the Dallas, Denver and Pittsburgh areas," the agency said. Specific dates and locations will be announced later.

The regulations are expected to have considerable impact in North Texas' natural gas-rich Barnett Shale.

A recent in-depth study commissioned by the city of Fort Worth showed that there were no "significant health threats" posed by air pollution from operations in the gas field, but recommended specific measures to further reduce emissions.

The proposed EPA regulations would require "green completions" of wells to capture more emissions and increase the use of equipment such as "low-bleed" pneumatic valves and vapor recovery units to reduce leaks.

The goal is to curb emissions of volatile organic compounds that contribute to formation of harmful ground-level ozone and to reduce leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas and the primary component of natural gas. Emissions of "air toxics," such as cancer-causing benzene, would also be reduced, the EPA said.

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