Evidence on whether venting of natural gas and oil wells causes harmful air pollution is mixed. Yet environmental groups have insisted President Barack Obama's administration establish new rules to curb it, so it probably was inevitable the Environmental Protection Agency would act on the matter.
At least the EPA has shown some restraint.
In announcing new regulations last week, the agency noted drillers will have two years to develop and deploy technology needed to meet them.
EPA officials said the new rules are in response to a court order that resulted from a lawsuit filed by environmental groups. The organizations contend gas and oil wells vented during the process of readying them for production release harmful pollutants into the air.
Again, the evidence on how dangerous the pollutants are is mixed. A state study in Pennsylvania concluded emissions from well sites in four counties were no threat to those working at the wells or living nearby. But a Texas study found cancer-causing benzene in the air near well sites.
The EPA regulations involve wells where hydraulic fracturing is used to unlock deposits of gas or oil. In essence, the new rules require treatment of gases vented from such sites to ensure dangerous pollutants do not get into the air. During the two-year moratorium on enforcement, drillers will be required to burn off, or flare, such gases.
Again, the delay is prudent. Requiring immediate enforcement would virtually shut down completion of gas wells because equipment to meet the EPA rules is not readily available.
During that two-year period, perhaps the science can be refined to better understand precisely what hazards are created by air pollution from wells-and to determine the least burdensome method of dealing with them.
Giving the virtual inevitability of the new rules, the EPA got it right in delaying enforcement.