Wolf wants to reduce drilling methane emissions by 40 percent

Scranton Times-Tribune

By Robert Swift

January 20, 2016

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf wants to reduce emissions of methane from the natural gas industry by 40 percent during the next five years.

Concerns about climate change and health risks are behind the new state plan announced Tuesday. It calls for new permit rules and regulations to reduce methane emissions, the second most prevalent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere from Marcellus Shale wells, compressor stations, processing facilities and pipelines. It would rely on using the best technology, requiring leak detection and repair programs, better record keeping and more inspections.

Specifically, the state Department of Environmental Protection will develop new permit requirements to control leaks at new Marcellus wells, compressor stations and production facilities and adopt new regulations to reduce leaks at existing oil and gas facilities.

Mr. Wolf said natural gas would be an even cleaner fuel source if methane emissions are reduced significantly.

“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,” he added.

The methane emissions plan is a key part of a state climate change action plan being released this spring, said John Quigley, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The governor announced this new plan at the start of a Facebook town hall meeting where he discussed climate change, energy and environmental issues for 45 minutes. Mr. Wolf said he would continue to push for a state severance tax on natural gas but doesn’t support a state moratorium on hydrofracking activities, saying the gas industry is an economic game-changer.

Mr. Wolf’s methane emissions plan would complement proposed rules by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to curb emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds from the oil and gas industry as part of the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan.

Just hours before Mr. Wolf’s announcement, a grass-roots group — Moms Clean Air Force — called at the Capitol for reducing methane emissions by 40 percent and keeping gas drilling activities away from schools.

The gas industry is already reducing methane emissions and doesn’t need duplicative regulations that could discourage drilling, said Stephanie Catarino Wissman, executive director of API-PA, an industry trade group.

Meanwhile, an administration task force on pipeline development plans to hold its final meeting today. The task force, chaired by Mr. Quigley, is considering recommendations offered by work groups to guide development of a network of pipelines to carry gas from Marcellus drilling areas to the eastern seaboard. The task force report is due next month.

Concerning methane emissions, one work group recommends that pipeline operators use a specific technique to lower gas line pressure before venting gas to the atmosphere during repairs and routine maintenance.

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