Ohio EPA Proposes Pollution Limits for Drilling

Associated Press
29 August 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Companies drilling for oil and natural gas in shale formations in Ohio might soon face air pollution limits on new wells.

The practice of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in pursuit of gas can require multiple wells on a single site, creating a concentration of equipment that can leak hazardous airborne compounds, The Columbus Dispatch reported. That's causing concern about the pollutants the drilling operations might release, and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has proposed requiring oil and gas drillers to get permits that would set pollution limits.

"This is no longer the individual little well you see out in farm fields," Ohio EPA spokesman Mike Settles said. "This is a sizable operation with pieces of equipment that need to be covered by an air permit."

Ohio has more than 64,000 active oil and gas wells, but they had not been considered significant threats to air quality.

Environmental groups appear to have more qualms with the idea than drillers do.

"I don't see anything that's particularly adverse to the industry's interests," said Tom Stewart, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.

A coalition that includes the Ohio Environmental Council and other environmental groups argue there are loopholes in the permit proposal that leave room for more pollution because the permits wouldn't apply to certain activities and because companies wouldn't be required to install the best available pollution filters.

The permits wouldn't limit air pollution from drilling or fracking, a technique in which water, chemicals and sand are pumped in to crack the ground and release gas or oil, because those are "temporary activities," Settles said.

It's possible that benzene and other hazardous compounds could evaporate from the waste water fracking produces, said Teresa Mills, Ohio organizer for the advocacy group Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

It's also possible companies could avoid installing the best available filters on massive oil storage tanks depending on their annual emissions of volatile organic compounds that help form smog, the newspaper said.

David Celebrezze of the Ohio Environmental Council said he thinks companies should be installing the best possible anti-pollution technology.

The EPA is expected to begin taking public comment on the permit proposal soon, perhaps in just a few weeks.