DENVER (AP) – The energy industry asked the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday to take more time to rethink its proposed rules for limiting air pollution at oil and gas wells.
Environmental groups attending a public hearing in Denver on the proposal, though, argue it could go further.
The meeting is the second of three on the agency’s plan, which includes what would be its first regulations for wells that are hydraulically fractured by blasting water, chemicals and sand underground.
Dozens of people spoke Tuesday at a hearing in Pittsburgh. Dozens more were registered to speak in Denver as well as in Arlington, Texas on Thursday.
The EPA published its proposal following a lawsuit in 2009 by citizens groups that said the agency had let existing rules languish instead of periodically reviewing them as required by the Clean Air Act.
The new rules would focus on having operators capture and sell natural gas that now escapes into the air.
The EPA estimates its proposal, if fully implemented, 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 air toxics, including benzene, by almost 30 percent, the EPA estimates.
Though drilling companies would have to spend millions of dollars complying with the rules, the government estimates the industry could save almost $30 million overall in 2015 from selling the captured natural gas.
But the Western Energy Alliance, a trade group, argues the EPA miscalculated by ignoring full costs of equipment, monitoring and paperwork needed to meet the rules. It is suggesting the agency asks a judge to push back the Feb. 28 deadline for adopting final rules.
Conservationists say updated air rules are overdue. Last winter, ground-level ozone in the Upper Green River Basin in western Wyoming, home to natural gas drilling, was recorded at levels worse than those in Los Angeles. The high levels prompted warnings for those with respiratory illnesses to stay inside and avoid strenuous activity.
“That’s not why people live in places like Wyoming and Colorado,” said Earthjustice attorney Robin Cooley.
The American Lung Association says it’s pleased by any efforts to reduce air pollution, but some businesses have said the EPA’s proposals for doing so are costly. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama backed off on tightening smog standards after some businesses and Republicans complained it would kill jobs.
In Colorado, Weld County has been a hot spot for drilling. County Commissioner Sean Conway said the EPA’s proposal could have unintended consequences on the industry, whose tax dollars and lease payments for land for drilling help support schools.
“If these rules become so restrictive that you reduce exploration, you reduce jobs, you reduce taxes. It’s a ripple effect,” he said.
– By Catherine Tsai, AP Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)