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Proposed Pennsylvania Methane Regs Exceed Federal Standards

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) plans to incorporate and go beyond the latest federal requirements to reduce oil and gas industry methane emissions in a new general permit for unconventional wells sites and revisions for the general permit for natural gas compressor facilities.

The agency discussed the changes for the first time at an Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee meeting last week. The changes would apply to pigging operations and unloading fluids from wells as they've been identified as considerable short-term emissions that aren't covered by federal regulations. Regulators would also require quarterly leak detection and repair surveys at well sites instead of semi-annually as federal regulations require. If an operator can demonstrate that 2% or less of its equipment is leaking then that requirement would be reduced.

Revisions for compressor stations would also impose noise mitigation requirements that comply with federal or local standards. The general permit for unconventional well sites would replace the Category No. 38 conditional permit exemption for oil and gas exploration, which changed DEP's air permitting policy and allowed regulators to more narrowly identify sources or categories of sources that could be exempt from plan approval.

Among the chief concerns about replacing the exemption criteria and revising the current general permit was the possibility that the DEP's efforts would exceed the scope of similar federal rulemaking efforts. The Obama administration has rolled-out a series of similar regulations and updates in recent years to meet a goal of slashing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45%.

Before last week's meeting, which was one of the first times the industry heard about the new permit and revisions, the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) sent letters to DEP recommending that the state adopt the recent federal regulations. The organization cautioned that dual standards could prove onerous and costly for the industry. The MSC said after the meeting that it wouldn't have further comment until the new permit and revisions are put out for public comment.

DEP has said there is no timeline for the release of the new regulations, but agency officials at last week's meeting said the draft documents would be published "shortly" in the state bulletin and opened to a 45-day public comment period. The changes are part of Gov. Tom Wolf's plan to reduce industry emissions. Other parts of that plan call for developing a rule to cover methane leaks from existing oil and gas facilities and establishing best management practices, including leak detection and repair programs to reduce emissions along production, gathering, transmission and distribution lines.

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