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EPA targets fracking wells in latest round of climate rules

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Rules would require reductions of methane from new wells and began assembling rules for existing wells. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

The Obama administration announced a comprehensive plan Thursday to cut methane emissions from fracking oil and natural gas wells, part of the president's broad agenda to combat climate change.

"Today, we are underscoring the aministration's commitment to finding common-sense ways to cut methane — a potent greenhouse gas fueling climate change — and other harmful pollution from the oil and gas sector," said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy.

"Together these new actions will protect public health and reduce pollution linked to cancer and other serious health effects while allowing industry to continue to grow and provide a vital source of energy for Americans across the country."

The EPA took two separate actions to cut methane. First, it implemented rules that will require reductions of the greenhouse gas from new wells in shale regions. Second, it began assembling regulations for all existing wells and related pumping facilities.

Critics of the EPA's effort say the industry already has taken action to cut methane, and emissions have fallen in consecutive years, arguing that the agency's rules would be duplicative and unnecessary. Many scientists blame greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels for driving manmade climate change.

Opponents also argue that regulating existing wells makes little sense because they produce less methane than new wells.

But the EPA doesn't see it that way.

"Over the past year, new science and data have shown that methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources are substantially higher than was previously understood," the agency said in announcing the regulations.

However, it wants stakeholder feedback before moving ahead with regulations.

"To build on the agency's current knowledge, EPA is issuing an information collection request that seeks a broad range of information, including the types of technologies that could be used to reduce emissions and their associated costs," the EPA said. "The information the agency receives in response to the [request] will provide the foundation for developing regulations to reduce methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources."