New standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency will affect natural gas companies wanting to drill for the resource.

The rule is the first federal effort to address serious air pollution associated with the natural gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process releases toxic and cancer-causing chemicals like benzene and hexane, as well as methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Arkansans for Responsible Gas Development, a coalition of landowners, community leaders and other concerned citizens, said it is pleased with the EPA’s new standards.

"The government is finally acknowledging the importance of protecting its people while maintaining the safe production of natural gas in our nation," Shannon Hensley, coalition chair, said.

The new EPA standards will require usage of technology called "green completions" that is already in use at about half of the fracking wells in the country. This technology can reduce up to 95 percent of the harmful emissions from natural gas wells with the added benefit for the industry of capturing additional gas, officials said.

The standards were proposed last summer 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.

"This is great news for Arkansans and industry in Arkansas," state Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, said. "The new measure not only reduces harmful emissions associated with natural gas production by relying on proven, economically feasible techniques, it enables companies to capture additional natural gas that they can sell."

When natural gas is produced from fracking a well, some of the methane gas escapes the well and may not be captured by the producing company. In addition, these wells emit air toxins such as benzene and hexane while being primed for production. These gases can pollute the air and as a result threaten public health, officials said.

Communities in Arkansas affected by natural gas drilling have long recognized the health risks that come with growing impact of natural gas development, Hensley said, and the EPA’s move to allow science to serve as a guide to safer extraction is a needed action.

The coalition "calls for best management practices in all aspects of the gas extraction process, and this is an important step in that direction," Hensley said.