Wolf announces plan to reduce methane emissions at gas wells

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Laura Legere

January 20, 2016

Pennsylvania will take new steps to cut methane emissions from natural gas wells and pipelines and fill gaps in state policies that have allowed many sources to release the potent greenhouse gas without controls.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday unveiled a four-part plan to reduce methane leaks and emissions at new and existing well sites and pipelines. The plan includes developing a new permit for new shale gas well sites, a more stringent permit for new compressor stations and gas processing facilities, a regulation for limiting leaks at existing oil and gas facilities and best practices for detecting and fixing leaks along pipelines.

“These regulations will improve our air, address the urgent crisis of climate change and help businesses reclaim product that is now wasted,” Mr. Wolf said. “The best companies understand the business case for reducing methane leaks. Methane that doesn’t leak into the atmosphere can be used for energy production.”

Methane is a more potent but less persistent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, with 84 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. The oil and gas industry accounts for a quarter of U.S. methane emissions, according to federal estimates.

Now, Pennsylvania has a roundabout way of regulating methane emissions from new natural gas well pads. It does not require methane monitoring, leak detection, or leak control measures at rapidly expanding networks of natural gas gathering, transmission and distribution pipelines, according to a draft update of the state’s climate change action plan.

And wells drilled before August 2013 are not required to comply with state rules for preventing and fixing methane leaks.

Marcellus Shale Coalition president David Spigelmyer said the industry’s use of best practices has already driven down methane emissions. “It cannot be overstated that shale-related methane emissions continue to steeply drop as production sharply climbs,” he said.

The North Fayette-based trade group said it is committed to working with lawmakers and state officials “to focus on common sense policies” that encourage natural gas development.

Methane emissions from shale gas well sites and compressor stations in Pennsylvania were down nearly 13 percent between 2012 and 2013, from 124,000 to 108,000 tons.

But they rose again in 2014, according to figures the Wolf administration released Tuesday. Methane emissions from unconventional wells and midstream operations totaled almost 115,000 tons in 2014.

Many environmental groups touted the methane-reduction strategy as an important commitment from the nation’s second-largest gas producing state.

Gretchen Dahlkemper, the national field director for Moms Clean Air Force, learned the broad outlines of the governor’s plans during a meeting Tuesday with John Hanger, Mr. Wolf’s secretary of policy and planning, following a rally at the Capitol pushing for stronger oil and gas air pollution controls.

“This is a good first step,” she said. “It will directly regulate methane and it also has co-benefits in eliminating those harmful [volatile organic compounds], like benzene, that are really the most impactful to pregnant women, children in utero and young children.”

Laura Legere: [email protected]

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