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EPA: The Way It Was

August 26, 2013 – Time was when I thought of the EPA as the good guys.  Industry – the bad guys – would once again imperil the water we drink, or the air that we breathe, and the EPA would ride to the rescue.  Something happened ( I believe it’s described as the Bush II administration), and the EPA began to excel at twiddling their thumbs, and little else.  Though twiddling may have lost its luster, I’m still not sure their hearts are really into protecting the environment.

Case in point: the new regulations issued by the EPA last week that will reduce air pollution created by “fracked” wells.  But, you say, isn’t it the EPA’s job to issue those very regulations?  Indeed it is, I reply.  Everyone knows that’s their job, except – apparently – the EPA.  Otherwise, why did the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia have to order them to take action?  Yup.  You see, the Environmental Protection Agency is tasked by law with reviewing pollution standards once every eight years.  I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but in 2009 (notice the date), environmental groups sued the agency, alleging it hadn’t done its job.  Now why might that have happened?

For the record, the new regulations will require gas producers to capture the burst of emissions that takes place when a well is being brought online.  They will, among other things, reduce methane emissions.  Because methane is 25x more toxic to humans than carbon dioxide, this is an important benefit of the new rules.

The process used to reduce methane, and a host of other polluting gases emitted by fracked wells, is known as “green completion.”  Truck-mounted equipment captures the effluent given off for about three to ten days after water, sand and chemicals are injected into a well.  The captured gas and liquid hydrocarbons can be separated, treated, and sold.   Green completions reduce the volatile organic compounds placed into the atmosphere by nearly 95 percent.   As rightly observed by Gina McCarthy, newly-designated head of the EPA, green completions promote responsible production of natural gas while protecting the public, and “do it in a way that more than pays for itself.”

There can be no question that green completion forces gas producers to limit the amount of damage they inflict on the environment.  Unfortunately, the new rules don’t impact the pollution created by compressor stations, storage tanks and other equipment essential to the production of natural gas.  Nevertheless, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said it welcomes the new regulations, but voiced disappointment regarding their delayed implementation.  They won’t be in full force until 2015, in order to allow gas producers to design/procure the necessary equipment.  The NRDC argues this can be accomplished more quickly.

In any case, “hip, hip, hooray” for an imperfect solution that is badly needed.  While we can all rejoice in taking this significant step forward, only time will tell if this turns out to have been a step in the direction of the EPA remembering why it was brought into existence in the first place.  Perhaps it will feel so good to help people, they’ll want to do more of it.  The proud history of the EPA should remind present-day environmentalists that they stand on the shoulders of giants.

That helps, when part of your job requires seeing far into the future.

With thanks to the


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