Obama administration actions on fracking

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Climate policy

On March 27, 2012, the EPA released its new rule limiting CO2 emissions from future electricity generating plants in the U.S., which proposes that new plants emit no more than 454 kilograms of CO2 per megawatt‐hour. It would go into effect in 2013. Science concluded that the cap is unlikely to have much impact on power plants fueled by natural gas: "Nearly all gas-fired power plants built in the U.S. since 2005 would already meet the standard, according to EPA, as would typical gas plants on the drawing boards."[1] The proposed rules have been delayed for release until June 2015.[2]

In June 2013, Obama announced his proposed Climate Action Plan. The plan involves using EPA authority to regulate carbon emissions. Critics noted that the policy proposal could lead to increased fracking for natural gas, since gas releases less carbon than coal when burned, but leaks methane during the life-cycle of production. Obama stated that methane emissions should be limited.[3] His climate plan calls for development of an interagency methane strategy among the Energy Department, the EPA, and other agencies, to explore and find gaps in data and work on ways to help reduce methane emissions.[4]

Various reports and studies have concluded that the reduced CO2 emissions at gas plants will be negated if methane leakage during the gas production life cycle is not minimized.[5][6][7][8]

On Sep 20, 2013, the EPA issued new CO2 rules separating coal and gas regulations. Newly built coal-fired power plants will have to keep carbon emissions below 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour—a level that will force new plants to have carbon capture and storage technology. Newly constructed natural-gas plants will be permitted to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of C02 per megawatt hour - essentially the level at which cleaner burning natural-gas plants currently perform.[9]

EPA and methane leakage

In 2011, EPA’s released a new greenhouse gas report on natural gas that doubled its previous estimates for the amount of methane gas that leaks from loose pipe fittings and is vented from gas wells.[10]

Using the small data available from the oil/gas industry so far, EPA has estimated that 2.8 percent of gas produced from a well each year leaks.[11] In May 2012 the American Petroleum Institute, which opposes any fracking regulations, released a study which stated that the EPA’s greenhouse-gases inventory released in 2011 “substantially increased estimates of methane emissions from petroleum and natural-gas systems.”[12]

In an April 2013 report on greenhouse emissions, the EPA said that tighter pollution controls instituted by the industry resulted in an average annual decrease of 41.6 million metric tons of methane emissions from 1990 through 2010, or more than 850 million metric tons overall -- a 20 percent reduction from previous estimates. Critics argue the EPA has been under pressure by the gas industry concerning fracking regulations.[13]

Water safety

Between 2012 and 2013, the EPA dropped its investigations into water contamination from shale drilling in Dimock, PA, Parker County, TX, and Pavillion, WY, ceding further investigation to state officials. Critics said the trend "calls into serious question the agency’s commitment to conducting an impartial, comprehensive assessment of the risks fracking presents to drinking water," slated for release in 2014.[14]

Proposed federal regulations

Air pollutants

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is finalizing air pollution standards for natural-gas drilling. The standards were proposed in summer 2012 in response to complaints from citizens and environmental groups that gases escaping from the 13,000 wells drilled each year by fracking were causing health problems and widespread air pollution.[15]

The rules would require all new and any modified wells to use equipment to capture fumes that escape in the production and processing of natural gas. The fumes include methane, a potent GHG and the main component of natural gas, and volatile organic compounds, which contribute to ground-level ozone (smog). The regulations will also limit emissions from compressors, oil storage tanks and other oil-and-gas sector equipment.[16][17]

The rules were issued on April 18, 2012, and will be fully effective in January 2015.[15]

For condensate tanks present on the well pads after hydraulic fracturing, 2012 EPA restrictions required gas companies to reduce the amount of Volatile Organic Compounds and cancer-causing chemicals like benzene up to 95 percent by October 15, 2013. In August 2013 the EPA extended the deadline for compliance to April 15, 2015, and loosened the 95 percent reduction requirement to allow for operators to go without emission control equipment as long as the emissions are under four tons per year.[18]

Fracking and public lands

All of the Eastern U.S. forest acreage leased since 2011 (with the exception of 38,174 acres in Alabama’s Conecuh National Forest) lies over shale deposits. From 2011 to mid-2012, the federal government had leased or scheduled for auction more than 384,000 acres at the request of private bidders, more than 10 times as much land as it had leased in the previous two years. Private land overlying shale deposits can sell for thousands of dollars an acre; land in 2012 BLM forest leases averaged $47 per acre.[19]

On May 4, 2012 the Obama administration announced proposed federal rules that will require companies to disclose the chemicals used during their fracking process after they finish operations, as well as strengthen well-bore integrity and address issues related to flowback water. The regulations would only account for the natural gas and oil deposits located on BLM land.[20][21][22] The rules will allow limited exemptions on chemical disclosure for “legitimate trade secrets.”[23]

Obama's New Energy Dept. and EPA chiefs support fracking

It was announced on March 4, 2013 that MIT professor Ernest Moniz would be nominated as Obama's new Energy secretary.[24]

Moniz was chair of MIT's 2011 Energy Initiative report, The Future of Natural Gas. The report stated that "natural gas provides a cost-effective bridge to a low-carbon future" and supported the exporting of liquified natural gas. Moniz did not disclose that he had joined the board of oil and gas consulting firm ICF prior to the release of the report. Moniz’s compensation from ICF since 2011 is valued at over $300,000. Another study group member, John Deutch, has served on the board of the LNG company Cheniere Energy since 2006; the company was approved for LNG exports in 2011.[25]

Shortly after assuming the position of EPA chief, Gina McCarthy said natural-gas production — with the right safeguards — is a major piece of Obama administration efforts to combat global warming.[26]



  1. David Malakoff, "Imposing a Cap With Holes," Science, March 27, 2012.
  2. "Obama’s Climate Plan: A Historic Turning Point or Too Reliant on Oil, Coal, Natural Gas?" Democracy Now, June 26, 2013.
  3. "Obama’s Climate Plan: A Historic Turning Point or Too Reliant on Oil, Coal, Natural Gas?" Democracy Now, June 26, 2013.
  4. Ben Geman, "EPA’s McCarthy: ‘Responsible’ gas production key to climate strategy," The Hill, Aug. 14, 2013.
  5. "Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2012.
  6. Nathan Myhrvold and Ken Caldeira, "Greenhouse gases, climate change and the transition from coal to low-carbon electricity," Environmental Review Letters 7 014019, February 2012.
  7. Robert W. Howarth, Renee Santoro, and Anthony Ingraffea, "Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations: A letter," Climatic Change, March 2011.
  8. "Leaking Profits: The U.S. Oil and Gas Industry Can Reduce Pollution, Conserve Resources, and Make Money by Preventing Methane Waste," NRDC, March 2012.
  9. Josh Dzieza, "Obama Administration Issues New Rules Capping Carbon Emissions From New Coal Plants," Daily Beast, Sep 20, 2013.
  10. "Climate Benefits of Natural Gas May Be Overstated" ProPublica, Jan. 25, 2011.
  11. Gayathri Vaidyanathan and Saqib Rahim, "Data-heavy project aims to move methane emissions research beyond 'he said, she said,'" E&E, October 15, 2012.
  12. "Obama’s EPA Overstates Pollution From Gas Fracking, Groups Say" Katarzyna Klimasinska, Bloomberg, June 4, 2012.
  13. "Fracking gas leak estimates lowered", 3 News (April 29, 2013). 
  14. Kate Sinding, "Why Would EPA Hide Info on Fracking & Water Contamination in Dimock?" NRDC, July 28, 2013.
  15. 15.0 15.1 John Broder, "U.S. Caps Emissions in Drilling for Fuel," New York Times, April 18, 2012.
  16. Andrew Restuccia, "Greens blast industry 'misinformation' on EPA 'fracking' rules," The Hill, April 9, 2012.
  17. Jennifer A. Dlouhy, "Industry asks for more time to comply with drilling pollution mandates," Fuel Fix, April , 2012.
  18. Alexander Lotorto, "New EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Loosens Frack Tank Rules," We Are Power Shift, Aug 6, 2013.
  19. Juliet Eilperin, "Forest lands in the East attract oil and gas bidders, but some question rush," The Washington Post, June 8, 2012.
  20. "EPA's Fracking Rules Cover Only A Sliver Of Land" Huffington Post, Lena Groeger, May 9, 2012.
  21. "Obama proposes fracking companies disclose chemicals" Wendy Koch, USA Today, May 4, 2012.
  22. "Administration issues new fracking rules" Neela Banerjee, Los Angeles Times, April 4, 2012.
  23. Mark Drajem and Katarzyna Klimasinska, "Fracking Rules on U.S. Lands Seen by Interior as Model," Bloomberg, Feb. 2, 2012.
  24. "Ernest Moniz, Considered Fracking Shill By Some Environmentalists, Sparks Concern Amid Energy Department Nomination" Ernest Moniz, Huffington Post, March 4, 2013.
  25. "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet? How MIT’s influential study of fracking was authored, funded, and released by oil and gas industry insiders," PAI, March 2013.
  26. Ben Geman, "EPA’s McCarthy: ‘Responsible’ gas production key to climate strategy," The Hill, Aug. 14, 2013.

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