Energy production can have significant effects on air quality in our nation. In recognition of this, federal, state and local agencies, as well as the energy industries themselves, have established standards to ensure the safeguarding of the air we breathe.
The landmark federal legislation on this issue, the Clean Air Act (a link will be provided below), contains a comprehensive look at all of the significant factors of air quality protection currently covered by federal law. States have developed further regulations and standards appropriate to their needs.
Recent innovations by the energy industry have opened up vast amounts of resources here in the US, paving the way for increased energy independence. With this growth in resources has come an increase in the number of oil and gas wells on American soil.
Many have objected to this growth, saying that it will have harmful effects on the environment, including the air quality of our communities. Let’s examine the aspects of oil and gas exploration that people are concerned will affect our air quality, and what steps are being taken to prevent the degradation of our air.
Large amounts of methane and other gases are freed from the earth during drilling. This could pose a threat to air quality if it is not captured or disposed of. Ideally, all of the methane would be captured and used as energy. All parties would like to see this process be as efficient as possible. At times that is not feasible because of a lack of infrastructure.
‘Flaring’ is when natural gases are burned off during oil and gas extraction. When a natural gas well is first drilled (sometimes using hydraulic fracturing), the initial output of gas is burned off at the well site until the well can be capped and the gas captured. Drilling companies are moving toward a “green completion” where gas capture would begin immediately.
Natural gas is also a byproduct of oil wells, and in areas where there is no way to transport it safely (you can’t use the same infrastructure as oil), the excess gas is burned off. Some companies are using the natural gas produced at oil wells to power the well site.
This loss of resources is not ideal, but building pipelines and increasing trucking in order to utilize the gas has been met with resistance from both politicians and environmentalists.
It should be noted that natural gas is one of the cleanest burning fossil fuels. With its increased availability, it is being used extensively in the U.S. for electricity generation, leading to decreased emissions of carbon and other chemicals into our air.
A brief summary of air quality issues relating to oil and gas:
The clean air act:
Article about green completions regulations: