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EPA Drilling Emissions Rule to Have Little Impact in Colorado

Encana Drill Rig.jpg

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a final rule that requires companies to control air emissions at oil and gas wells that are drilled using the process of hydraulic fracturing.

The first of its kind regulation has not come without criticism, but it may not have that much of an effect in Colorado.

That’s because Colorado and neighboring Wyoming already require oil and gas companies to install emissions capturing technology at some well sites in the Piceance Basin in western Colorado and the Wattenberg Field in northeast Colorado.

These so-called "green completion" systems  aim to corral volatile organic compounds which are widely thought to be harmful to human health.

In announcing the new regulation Wednesday, EPA assistant administrator Gina McCarthy said the agency’s final rule, which stemmed from a court battle with conservationists, creates a uniform, national standard.

"Resulting in more efficient operations, while reducing harmful emissions that can impact air quality in surrounding areas and nearby states," McCarthy said during a conference call with reporters.

EPA is giving oil and gas companies until January 1, 2015 to fully comply with the new regulation.  There had been speculation that the agency would require the change in just 60 days, and the move comes as the Obama Administration has been promoting its efforts to boost natural gas development.

"This phased approach will provide time for industry to order and manufacture enough equipment as well as train personnel to conduct green completions," McCarthy said.

That phased approach is about the only part of the rule applauded by Kathleen Sgamma, of the Denver-based Western Energy Alliance.  She worries it will add enormous costs to small producers the alliance represents.

"We think that this is not a balanced piece of regulation," she told KUNC. "It’s not backed by good science a good economic analysis."

The EPA estimates the new rule will reduce smog-producing VOCs by about 95 percent a year based on the some 13,000 wells that are drilled or "re-fracked" over the same span. 

This article was updated from an earlier post.

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.
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