Gov. Wolf introduces new regulations to fight methane pollution

Al Dia News

By Martin Martinez

January 21, 2016

In what Governor Tom Wolf is calling a “new way forward” to protect the environment and reduce waste, Harrisburg announced new rules Tuesday for reducing methane leaks in the mining of natural gas.  

A four-point plan was presented by the governor’s office which aims to push oil and gas companies mining for natural gas in Pennsylvania to use best available technologies and processes to keep an eye on leaks. Regulations will be ramped up, moving to quarterly inspections and updated permits.

The four-point plan:

1. To reduce leaks at new unconventional natural gas well pads, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will develop a new general permit for oil and gas exploration, development, and production facilities, requiring Best Available Technology (BAT) for equipment and processes, better record-keeping, and quarterly monitoring inspections.

2. To reduce leaks at new compressor stations and processing facilities, DEP will revise its current general permit, updating best-available technology requirements and applying more stringent leak detection and repair (LDAR), other requirements to minimize leaks. A new condition will require the use of Tier 4 diesel engines that reduce emissions of particulate matter and nitrous oxide by about 90%.

3. To reduce leaks at existing oil and natural gas facilities, DEP will develop a regulation for existing sources for consideration by the Environmental Quality Board.

4. To reduce emissions along production, gathering, transmission and distribution lines, DEP will establish best management practices, including leak detection and repair programs.

“These are commonsense steps that Pennsylvania can take to protect our air and reduce waste for industry,” said Wolf in a statement. “The best companies understand the business case for reducing methane leaks, as what doesn’t leak into the atmosphere can be used for energy production.”

The latest numbers from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show the state is the second largest producer of natural gas in the country behind Texas. It is also the state with the second greatest number of producing gas wells.

Methane is what mostly makes up natural gas and is released during the mining process. It is sometimes be released in mass quantities into the atmosphere. The gas has a similar effect as carbon dioxide in that it is very good at keeping heat from escaping Earth, thus contributing to global warming. In fact, experts have said that methane warms the earth even more than carbon dioxide. 

According to the governor’s office, the oil and gas industry reported almost 115,000 tons of methane emissions in Pennsylvania in 2014. This they said is “a low estimate,” saying emissions are hard to track.

In order to court oil and gas companies into compliance, state officials pitched the regulations as a way to help businesses reduce waste while also helping protect citizens and the environment.

“As the basis for our methane strategy, we’ve identified measures that the best companies in the industry are already employing, or that are required by the Federal government, or other states,” said John Quigley, secretary of Department of Environmental Protection in a statement. “These measures will pay for themselves in recovering saleable product that is otherwise lost.”

The Clean Air Council, a Delaware Valley-based anti-pollution group, called the state’s move an important step forward.

“History has shown that the Pennsylvania gas industry can’t be trusted to police itself; That’s why regulating air pollution from oil and gas activity is so necessary,” said Joseph Otis Minott, executive director and chief counsel of Clean Air Council in a statement. “Strong rules that require operators to reduce air pollution leaks at both new and existing facilities will help spur the health benefits that Pennsylvania families deserve.”


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