EPA’s New National Oil and Gas Standards are an Important Step Toward Cleaner, Healthier Air

April 18, 2012

Media Contact: Erin Geoffroy, 512-691-3407, egeoffroy@edf.org

Expert Contact: Peter Zalzal, 303-447-7214, pzalzal@edf.org  

(Washington, DC – April 18, 2012) Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized important, new national clean air standards for oil and natural gas that will reduce harmful air pollution, protect public health and the environment, and prevent the waste of a valuable domestic energy source.  Leaks, venting and flaring from oil and natural gas drilling activities contribute to ground-level ozone (“smog”), toxic air pollution such as benzene and destabilize the climate.  The limited federal standards that existed prior to these clean air measures covered only natural gas processing plants, and were most recently updated, in part, 13 years ago; other aspects of the air standards for the oil and gas industry are more than a quarter-century old.

“These standards are a trifecta: they protect human health and the environment, reduce waste of a domestic energy source growing in importance and save industry money through sales of recovered natural gas product.  For too long the industry has operated under insufficient, outdated standards that fail to protect Americans from the dangerous air pollution produced by oil and gas activities,” said Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). 

EPA’s new air quality measures – New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPS) – are an important step in limiting harmful emissions of airborne contaminants discharged during natural gas extraction activities.  EPA estimates that these measures will reduce air pollution from oil and natural gas sources, with significant reductions in smog-forming pollutants and hazardous air pollutants like benzene, a known carcinogen.  As a co-benefit, the standards will also reduce methane, a potent climate forcer.  

In his 2011 State of the Union Address, President Obama committed to developing shale gas resources “without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”  Likewise, the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board’s (SEAB) Shale Gas Subcommittee has recommended “[m]easures should be taken to reduce emissions of air pollutants, ozone precursors, and methane as quickly as practicable. The Subcommittee supports adoption of rigorous standards for new and existing sources of methane, air toxics, ozone precursors and other air pollutants from shale gas operations.”  EPA’s proposed clean air measures are an important first step in fulfilling the President’s commitment and SEAB’s recommendation.  

The standards achieve these important air quality improvements by utilizing proven, cost-effective control technologies that are similar to clean air measures that the states of Colorado and Wyoming have successfully deployed.  In these states, EDF analysis demonstrates that the oil and gas industry has experienced swift growth while deploying similar, cost-effective pollution control technologies.

One such technology, “green completion,” allows producers to capture emissions that would otherwise occur after a well is hydraulically fractured, and to capture and profit from the sale of gas that would otherwise be lost.  EPA estimates that deploying green completion technologies, along with other measures in the rule that would plug leaks throughout the system, will save billions of cubic feet of domestic natural gas each year.  EPA estimates that application of these proven, cost-effective technologies will yield a cost savings of $11 to $19 million in 2015, because the value of natural gas and condensate that will be recovered and sold will offset costs.

“These updated standards will reduce harmful air pollution through highly cost-effective controls and avoid the needless waste of a valuable domestic energy source: natural gas,” said EDF senior scientist Ramon Alvarez. “They will also standardize many common sense practices and technologies that natural gas companies already use successfully and benefit from financially.”

Plugging leaks of greenhouse gases, such as methane, is important because they undermine the climate benefits of natural gas over other fossil fuels such as coal and oil.  Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas and a greenhouse gas (GHG) pollutant many times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal contributor to man-made climate change.  A recent EDF paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) concludes that new natural gas combined cycle power plants reduce climate impacts compared to new coal plants as long as methane leakage remains under 3.2%. 


Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading national nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. See twitter.com/EDFEnergyEX; facebook.com/EnvDefenseFund; and http://blogs.edf.org/energyexchange/.