Shale Daily / NGI All News Access

Air Quality Poised to Become Marcellus Issue in 2012

The impact of Marcellus Shale drilling on air quality is shaping up to be a major issue this year.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Greg Vitali, a Democrat from southeastern Pennsylvania, introduced legislation Wednesday to beef up air quality regulations. House Bill 2113, which already has 33 co-sponsors crossing party lines, would require the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to collect and publish information about air emissions from Marcellus drilling, require permits for wellhead area emissions and increase permit fees to fund state air pollution control efforts.

"Publication of this information will help the public better understand the air pollution issues associated with Marcellus drilling," Vitali said, adding that existing regulations crafted for shallow gas drilling did not anticipate the emissions associated with unconventional drilling, which typically is staged.

The DEP is in the process of cataloging air emissions information from all sources -- industrial, commercial and natural -- as part of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inventory compiled every three years (see Shale Daily, Dec. 12, 2011).

The DEP said it sent requests for information to 99 companies involved in developing, producing, piping and processing natural gas, but the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council said many major operators -- including NiSource Inc., MarkWest Energy Partners LP, PDC Energy, UGI Energy Services Inc., Central New York Oil and Gas Co. LLC and Pioneer Drilling Co. -- weren't sent a request for information about their air emissions, and therefore aren't required to provide it.

"There is now a relatively short timeline to complete air quality emission reports for the 2011 operating year," Executive Director Joseph Minott wrote to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer in late December. He added that Pennsylvania wouldn't be able to meet the Dec. 31, 2012 deadline for submitting information to the EPA if its current round of data collection was incomplete.

The DEP said it is currently reviewing the letter an did not yet have a response.

But the DEP did, on Thursday, ask the EPA to dismiss a petition made by the Clear Air Council in late November 2011. That petition said Pennsylvania needed to be sanctioned because it wasn't implementing its required plan for complying with the Clean Air Act, claiming the DEP wasn't providing adequate notice before allowing construction projects.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Krancer said the DEP is in full compliance with its most recent plan, approved in 2008, and that its still waiting for EPA approval of its subsequent plan, submitted in 2009. "To date, EPA has not responded and was recently sued by several environmental groups for lack of action of Pennsylvania's and other state's plans," Krancer wrote. "As EPA should be painfully aware, EPA has been sued over this situation and shoulders the blame for what Clean Air Council is complaining about."

Additionally, the DEP is getting push back from the EPA about a proposed policy change that would likely make it more difficult to group interconnected facilities together for the purpose of measuring emissions (see Shale Daily, Dec. 7, 2011). But the DEP has been touting three regional reports over the past year that found no public health risk from emissions near natural gas operations and plans to conduct a long-term monitoring effort this year (see Shale Daily, May 24, 2011).

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