Two months ago, I posted an article Clean Air Impacts on Fracking Expansion from the American Law Institute’s Annual Environmental Law Seminar in Washington, D.C. I was reporting on clean air impacts of fracking activity expansion, and particularly how increased methane emissions from horizontal fracking wells could offset air quality gains made from switching from coal to natural gas. I also observed that fugitive methane emissions make it more difficult for areas in nonattainment for the ozone national ambient air quality standard to achieve compliance. Studies have shown that methane emissions from various sources at horizontal fracking wells can be significant. Fortunately, the Ohio EPA has been aware of the threats posed by methane emissions, and last week they finalized regulations that will tighten up the surveillance and repair of leaks from valves, connectors and other drilling equipment located at horizontal fracking well sites.
Under these new regulations, Ohio EPA’s general permit for the installation and operation of horizontal fracking well facilities will now require that operators scan all the equipment at a well site on a quarterly basis using infrared cameras or other devices that can detect hydrocarbon leaks. If a leak is detected, immediate action must be taken to repair the leak within five days and operators are required to submit documentation on leak detection and repair to the Ohio EPA annually.
While the new rules have generally been well received by the oil and gas industry and environmental community, some have argued that they don’t go far enough. Some environmentalists point out that vertical wells, pipelines, and compressors are not covered by the new rules even though they are often the sources of fugitive leak emissions. Others argue that the leak detection regulations should apply not just to facilities that apply for a state permit from this time going forward, but also to those facilities that are already in existence. Nevertheless, the new regulations in their present form can only have a positive impact on ambient air quality and further advance the benefits of producing and using natural gas.