Wolf Announces Final General Permits Limiting Methane Emissions From New Unconventional Oil & Gas Operations

Gov. Tom Wolf Thursday announced the Department of Environmental Protection is releasing the final versions of General Permit 5 and 5A to control methane emissions from unconventional natural gas operations at new compressor stations, processing, transmission facilities and well sites. (formal notice)

“These permits represent the first step of my Methane Reduction Strategy and my administration’s continuing commitment to cleaner, healthier air across the commonwealth,” said Gov. Wolf. “Cleaner air means healthier communities – for our citizens, and especially for our children. These new permits are one example of a way that we can have positive economic development without compromising public health. These permits are a win-win, helping industry control methane emissions that cost them money, while also helping defend our children and keep our communities healthier through cleaner air.  We’ve arrived at these permits through a comprehensive process that included feedback and input from both industry and the environmental community, and I am proud of the finished product that we are unveiling today.”

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, has been identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the second-most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States from human activities.

“Pennsylvania is the second-largest producer of natural gas in the nation behind Texas,” said Gov. Wolf. “We are uniquely positioned to be a national leader in addressing climate change while supporting and ensuring responsible energy development, while protecting public health and our environment.

“These permits incorporate the most current state and federal regulations for controlling air pollution,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “The permits for new unconventional natural gas wells and new compression, processing and transmission stations along pipelines are some of the first in the nation to comprehensively address methane emissions from all equipment and processes, and they also address other types of air pollution that contribute to poor air quality.”

The newly revised general permits, GP-5 and GP-5A, will be required for new compression, processing and transmission stations along pipelines, and new natural gas wells, respectively.

In addition to the methane controls, the permits also set thresholds on other types of air pollution, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Operators will be required to meet federal new source standards and state Best Available Technology (BAT) included in the permit conditions for equipment and processes to control pollution emissions.

“Reducing air pollution from gas wells and compression, processing and transmission facilities is key to responsibly developing Pennsylvania’s natural gas resources,” said McDonnell. “Everything we can do to reduce air pollution will improve public health.”

Final permit language is posted on DEP’s Air General Permit and the Methane Reduction Strategy webpages.

Technical Guidance

The Department of Environmental Protection published two notices in the June 9 PA Bulletin finalizing and rescinding technical guidance related to air emissions from oil and gas operations in addition to finalizing GP5/GP5A to control methane emissions--

DEP published notice in the June 9 PA Bulletin of final technical guidance on Air Quality Permit Exemptions Related To Categories 35, 38, 16 and 40 (DEP ID: 275-2101-003) [Note: Should be posted on DEP’s Air General Permit webpage.  (Prior document) Questions regarding this technical guidance document should be directed to Naishadh Bhatt, 717-787-2856 or send email to: nabhatt@pa.gov or Frank Zarefoss, 717-787-4325 or send email to: fzarefoss@pa.gov.

DEP published notice in the June 9 PA Bulletin rescinding technical guidance on Performing Single Stationary Source Determination for Oil and Gas Industries (DEP ID: 270-0810-006) due to the issuance of the United States Environmental Protection Agency Final Rule entitled ''Source Determination for Certain Emission Units in the Oil and Natural Gas Sector,'' 81 FR 35622 (June 3, 2016).  Questions regarding this technical guidance document should be directed to Frank Zarefoss, 717-787-4325 or send email to: fzarefoss@pa.gov.

Regulating Existing Sites

The Department of Environmental Protection is developing a set of regulations to control methane emissions at existing oil and gas facilities, however, no timetable has been announced for when a draft will be available.

Methane Emissions

In 2015, there were 112,128 tons of methane emitted from unconventional natural gas operations as reported to DEP by companies.  DEP found average methane reported from each midstream compressor station decreased from 106.9 tons in 2012 to 97.5 tons in 2015. The average emission per well site was 8.3 tons in 2012 and 5.8 tons in 2015.

A report by the Environmental Defense Fund in February said methane emissions from all of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas operations- conventional and unconventional-- could be as much as 520,000 tons a year.

Public Review

DEP started the development of the General Permits in December of 2016 and has held several rounds of public comment starting in February 2017 and again in March of 2018 as well as discussions with the agency’s Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee and Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board as the drafts have evolved.

During DEP’s initial comment period more than 10,000 comments were received.  Based on those comments, DEP made significant changes to the proposals along the way.

There has also been a lively discussion between DEP and the General Assembly over the General Permits and questions about the General Permits have been a regular feature of budget hearings for the agency.

In February of 2017, Senators Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), President Pro Tempore of the Senate; Jake Corman (R-Centre), Senate Majority Leader; and Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, sent a letter to DEP raising 21 questions about how and why the General Permits were being used.

The issue was also raised in a June 2017 hearing on regulatory authority by the House State Government Committee.

Legislative interest in the issue culminated in a rider added to the Tax Code budget bill last July by the Senate in July 2017 that would have created a new 7-member Air Quality Permit “Advisory” committee dominated by 6 members appointed by the Senate and House to specifically approval all general air quality permits that regulate air emissions from oil and gas operations.

If enacted, it would have been the first time in history a legislatively-dominate body has veto authority over any environmental regulation or permit short of a vote to pass new legislation or a resolution that is then presented to the Governor for his action.

While the provision didn’t make it into the final budget settlement, it was very close and was supported by the House.

Industry Reaction

Marcellus Shale Coalition President Dave Spigelmyer issued this statement Thursday-- “Our industry is focused on ensuring methane and related emissions are managed safely and effectively.  In fact, methane is the very product we produce and is used by homeowners and business across the Commonwealth.  Our efforts to manage the resource have improved air quality as noted by the DEP and other independent reports. Despite this positive and continued progress, we remain concerned about imposing additional requirement through operating permits, particularly those that exceed DEP’s statutory authority.”

Environmental Reaction

“Today’s announcement brings Pennsylvania in line with what other states, with the support of industry, have already proven: that our economy and environment are best served by adoption of high standards for energy development,” said John Walliser, Senior Vice President for Legal and Government Affairs for the PA Environmental Council.

“With these controls in place, we must now focus on an even bigger issue: emissions of methane from existing sources” said Walliser. “We look forward to continuing our work with other stakeholders committed to advancing leading energy development and environmental protection standards.”

“Pennsylvanians can breathe easier once these methane safeguards are in place,” said  Fred Krupp, President, Environmental Defense Fund.  “This progress toward cleaner air must continue with concrete steps to reduce pollution from the hundreds of thousands of existing oil and gas facilities across the state.”

“With millions of Pennsylvanians affected by oil and gas pollution, Gov. Wolf is taking the right step by standing up to protect residents of the Commonwealth,” said Andrew Williams, Director of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs for EDF. “Gov. Wolf should be commended for listening to his constituents and taking effective and responsible action to rein in the environmental and public health impacts of oil and gas development.”

EDF said cost-effective technologies already exist to control methane emissions – another recent analysis by the International Energy Agency found operators can cut 40 to 50 percent of emissions at no net cost. Tackling the state’s methane emissions will ultimately make Pennsylvania more competitive, healthier and a leader by applying reasonable and responsible oil and gas controls.

“Gov. Wolf has listened to the needs of his constituents and delivered some of the strongest protections for new pollution sources in the nation,” said Rob Altenburg, Director of the PennFuture Energy Center. “We now look forward to his administration turning their attention to the tens of thousands of existing sources of natural gas pollution in our state and issuing a quick proposal to properly regulate them as well.”

“While EPA continues efforts to dismantle commonsense clean air protections at the federal level, we are proud to see our governor taking action to establish strong standards here in Pennsylvania,” said Joseph Minott, Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council. “As the second largest producer of natural gas in the country, Pennsylvania must demonstrate responsible leadership. Fulfilling that role will require taking the next step to apply similar regulations to existing sources of methane emissions.”

“The tools and technologies to drastically cut methane pollution in our communities already exist, but the industry has largely chosen not to invest in the right safeguards. The new permitting process will ensure that operators are taking appropriate steps to limit pollution in the communities where they plan to set up shop,” said Steve Hvozdovich, Pennsylvania Campaigns Director for Clean Water Action. “Gov. Wolf is making great strides, and there is still work to be done to ensure all existing sources of pollution are addressed.”

“Pennsylvania residents have been living, working and sending their children to schools in areas with known health and safety risks,” said Jamin Bogi, Policy and Outreach Coordinator for Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP). “These permits are an important step in the right direction, and we need to slow the constant stream of toxic pollutants from natural gas sites already in operation.  The time is now for Gov. Wolf to follow through on standards for existing sources.”

“By finalizing permits that reduce new natural gas waste and methane pollution, DEP has taken a vital step to protect Pennsylvania’s air quality. This not only protects people’s health, it also protects the gas industry by preserving the advantages gas has over coal,” said David Jenkins, president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship (CRS).

“There is nothing conservative about waste and pollution, or the corner cutting that causes them. Pennsylvania’s commitment to these common sense standards is a welcome contrast to the swamp politics in Washington that is preventing federal agencies like EPA from doing their job,” Jenkins added.

“CRS encourages DEP to take the critical next step by addressing the state’s existing sources of oil and gas air pollution. Producing Pennsylvania’s natural gas responsibly is the prudent path forward for everyone,” said Jenkins.

"On behalf of veterans across Pennsylvania, Vet Voice Foundation is gratified to see Gov. Tom Wolf finalize permits to curb future oil and gas methane pollution in the state," said Garett Reppenhagen, the foundation’s regional director. "Methane pollution wastes valuable energy resources and hinders our energy security, the very security for which soldiers put their lives on the line every day. The Wolf administration can heed the call and finish the job by enacting necessary standards for the existing sources of oil and gas air pollution that pose a serious problem today."

More Information

For more background information, visit DEP’s Methane Reductions From The Oil & Gas Sector webpage.


Kummer: PA Moves To Curb Methane Pollution At Natural Gas Sites

AP-Levy: Pennsylvania To Require Gas Drillers to Reduce Air Pollution

Legere: PA Adopts New Controls For Cutting Methane From Shale Gas Wells

Frazier: PA Sets Methane Regulations On Natural Gas Wells For First Time

Wolf To Use Permits To Control Methane Pollution From New Sources Of Natural Gas

Cusick: DEP: No Specific Timeline On Methane Regs For Existing Oil & Gas Facilities

Related Stories:

EDF Report: PA Oil & Gas Methane Emissions Nearly 5 times Higher Than State Inventory

DEP: Natural Gas Facility Methane Emissions Increase 4% With Increase In Gas Production, Number Of Facilities

House Passes Bill Weakening Standards For Conventional Oil & Gas Drilling

Senate Committee To Consider House Conventional Oil & Gas Bill, DRBC Eminent Domain, Pipelines, Ethane Hub, Recycling, Trail Bills June 12

House Environmental Committee Meets June 12 On Bill To Implement Governor’s Oil & Gas Well Permitting Reforms

[Posted: June 7, 2018]


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