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By Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania State Director The EPA’s strong proposal to restrict air emissions from oil and gas extraction operations is a good start.  EPA regulations of these large pollution sources are urgently needed in cities like Pittsburgh and in many other communities across the country.  Gas drilling has been poorly controlled by state governments and we desperately need the federal government to take a strong role in protecting public health and the environment. Take a look at the picture to the left.  That is a Marcellus Shale gas well being “flared” and it was taken from the backyard of a Washington County, PA resident.  This is one of the most drilled regions of Pennsylvania and it’s just outside of Pittsburgh.  This is not an isolated photo - Pennsylvania allows gas wells as close as 200 feet from a residence.  People are living extremely close to these pollution sources.  The EPA and state governments must take this into account when making any new rules on emissions from fracking operations. These rules are needed now.  There is no moratorium on permits for the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.  We already have 3,900 Marcellus wells drilled here, with another 8,400 permits already issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.  Sixty new permits being approved every week - many more wells are planned.  Any delay, from the state of federal government in putting restrictions in place means allowing thousands of new pollution sources in Pennsylvania that will have a significant impact on our health. Pittsburgh and the southwest region of Pennsylvania already suffers from poor air quality.  The region is not meeting Clean Air Act standards for ozone and fine particulate matter.  It’s making people sick.  Some of the world’s largest industrial pollution sources from the coal, steel, and chemical industries, plus thousands of diesel vehicles, have placed a heavy health burden on a region where many lack health insurance.  Local school districts in Allegheny County have asthma rates as high as 37% (Northgate school district, near the industrial area of Neville Island).  If we fail to regulate pollution from natural gas production our children and most vulnerable neighbors will be paying for our lack of foresight for decades. EPA needs to ensure that these rules are put into place quickly and are as strong as they can be.  Best available control technology should be a standard requirement for all oil and gas operations.  It’s simple - all significant sources of air emissions must be included in the rules including the thousands of open air frac pits that accompany drilling sites.  These pits are allowed to be a couple hundred feet from where people live and children play.  Not regulating the pits and toxins like methane and hydrogen sulfide is unacceptable.  Finally, “flaring” should be completely prohibited.  It is irresponsible to allow the gas industry to start production at a well, before they have a way to safely control the flow of hazardous emissions. It’s good that the EPA is seeking to regulate air pollution from natural gas drilling. The state government has been extremely unresponsive to our concerns regarding the rush to drill for natural gas here.  We are looking towards federal agencies such as EPA to step up to the plate and provide the protect we all deserve.