The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released final criteria for its new, stricter air quality permit rules for natural gas production sites.
All well operators must now submit air quality plans for approval by the DEP before constructing new well sites, unless their practices and standards are stricter than federal rules and regulations. “Oil and gas well sites in Pennsylvania had been granted blanket exemptions from obtaining approvals since 1996,” according to the DEP.
The DEP guidance includes practices such as a leak detection and repair program for the entire well pad and facility, rather than just the storage vessels as required by federal rules. Any leaks must be repaired within 15 days unless the operator shuts the site down or is in the process of acquiring replacement parts. Emissions of volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants must also be controlled beyond levels required by the federal rules. DEP’s guidance also requires that emissions of nitrogen oxides be less than 100 pounds per hour, half a ton per day and 6.6 tons per year; the federal rules do not address or limit such emissions.
Finally, while both the federal rules and the state’s guidance allow for flaring (with the EPA requiring green completions at all wells by Jan. 1, 2015), open flaring is only allowed by the state on a short-term or emergency basis. Flaring used as emission control on storage vessels must be enclosed, resulting in reductions of volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants. Such enclosed flares have been demonstrated to achieve up to 99.9 percent elimination of such pollutants.