Energy. Environment. Economy.

In climate move, Wolf unveils new methane regulations for oil and gas industry

State environmental regulators will develop new regulations aimed at curbing methane leaks from new and existing oil and gas infrastructure.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

State environmental regulators will develop new regulations aimed at curbing methane leaks from new and existing oil and gas infrastructure, like this gas processing equipment in Lycoming County.

Governor Tom Wolf announced new plans Tuesday to cut methane emissions from the state’s oil and gas sector. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Wolf’s announcement follows a similar move by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September.

“These are commonsense steps that Pennsylvania can take to protect our air and reduce waste for industry,” Wolf said in a statement. “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.”

The rules will create a new permit for oil and gas companies requiring them to use the best available technologies to prevent leaks at well sites and compressor stations. The state Department of Environmental Protection also plans to develop new regulations to curb leaks at existing oil and gas infrastructure.

Methane is the main component of natural gas. Compared to carbon dioxide, it is a much more potent greenhouse gas, although it stays in the planet’s atmosphere for a shorter time period. On a 100-year time scale methane is more than 25 times more powerful than CO2, according to the EPA.

From a climate perspective, natural gas has become an attractive fossil fuel alternative for electric power generation. When burned, natural gas emits about half the carbon pollution compared to coal, which remains the nation’s largest source of electricity. However scientists have warned that the methane leaks caused by drilling, transporting, and processing gas could undermine its climate benefits. Recent research has focused on finding the “super-emitters”– places where leaks are significant.

According to the DEP, Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale industry reported nearly 115,000 tons of methane emissions in 2014. The agency considers that a low estimate, since fugitive emissions are difficult to quantify.

The new rules will have four parts. From the announcement:

  • To reduce leaks at new unconventional natural gas well pads, DEP will develop a new general permit for oil and gas exploration, development, and production facilities, requiring Best Available Technology (BAT) for equipment and processes, better record-keeping, and quarterly monitoring inspections.
  • To reduce leaks at new compressor stations and processing facilities, DEP will revise its current general permit, updating best-available technology requirements and applying more stringent leak detection and repair (LDAR), other requirements to minimize leaks. A new condition will require the use of Tier 4 diesel engines that reduce emissions of particulate matter and nitrous oxide by about 90%.
  • To reduce leaks at existing oil and natural gas facilities, DEP will develop a regulation for existing sources for consideration by the Environmental Quality Board.
  • To reduce emissions along production, gathering, transmission and distribution lines, DEP will establish best management practices, including leak detection and repair programs.

The DEP will hold a webinar on the methane rules Wednesday at 11:30am.

Environmental groups applauded the move.

“Gov. Wolf’s bold leadership takes an important and much needed step toward protecting the health of Pennsylvania citizens from drillers’ harmful methane pollution,” says PennFuture CEO Larry Schweiger. “This industry is recklessly wasting natural resources and appears to care little about the health of its neighbors or the rapidly warming planet.”

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a trade group representing Pennsylvania’s gas industry, says it’s committed to working with the Wolf administration and legislators on the issue.

“It cannot be overstated that shale-related methane emissions continue to steeply drop as production sharply climbs,” says MSC President Dave Spigelmyer. “These positive results are a function of the industry’s widespread use of operational best practices and continuous investments aimed at protecting and enhancing our environment greenhouse gas.”


  • T40Rs731N

    Incoming science denial in 3..2..1…

    • doctorivy

      No science denial, just a lesson on how grant funding works. A company, say Hershey, gives a million dollar grant to discover whether or not chocolate has healthful properties. Who do you suppose wins the award? The person who has exhibited a history of using “science” to “prove” the desired result. If this “scientist” finds “good” “data” Hershey gives TWO MILLION for further study. If he finds chocolate makes you fat and die early he is denied tenure and shown the door. Why? The university gets 50% of all grants right off the bat. Now replace Hershey with the federal government (these studies “prove” the government needs to tax and regulate business further, don’t you know) and you realize the scam that is Mann-made global warming (see what I did there? You don’t, do you?).

      • doctorivy

        Also, “climate science” isn’t science. Do you know that “peer review” only means you have to conform to the habits and customs of your peers? What does that mean? That means that climatologists can use “tricks” (to quote Mr. Mann-made Global Warming) and other strategies that would get them thrown in jail if they were ACTUAL scientists. Say civil engineers who make bridges. In other words, the “science” used by statisticians “proving” how “unfair” America is is totally different than the science a physicist uses to create a new jet plane. The junk science used by the Warmists is the exact same unfallible “science” that “proved” we’d be out of oil by 1988. And how did that turn out?

        • kenneth weir

          doctorivy, sounds like the Penn State papers in 2009 that opened the flood gates to the extraction industry, without any health or environmental studies. Socialize the costs and privatize the profits, when are the people of this country going to realize that global corporations have now set their bulls eye on us.

      • T40Rs731N

        We’ve heard it before.

        The world’s climate scientists (Japan, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, UK,Germany, India, Iraq,Australia, Indonesia, China, Russia, Brazil et al) are all part of a global conspiracy spending millions of dollars so a few climate scientists in the USA can get a few thousand dollars in research grants because climate science isn’t a hobby.

        And they would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for a plucky band of oil billionaires.


      • Robert Monk

        I’d vastly prefer no regulations to piecemeal methane rules here and insufficient pollution limits there. How about all U.S. polluters pay the health and environmental costs for pollution they impose outside their property lines (this would be implementation of classical Libertarian property rights to pollution)? So, instead of $85/ton administrative fees to monitor and license pollution emissions and a ‘let your conscience be your guide’ pat on the head from EPA, they can now pay $1000/ton or more per ton for general mixed pollution (mostly CO2), or $10,000/ton or more for pollution with relatively high concentrations of lead, NOx or SO2. Sound good? These are documented costs in birth defects, lung diseases, poisoned water, deforestation, erosion, global warming, sea level rise, etc..

        Let’s do it. Problem is, weak and failed states around the rest of the world don’t do the right thing along with us, so we end up at a trade disadvantage and then have to tariff imports of ‘dirty’ goods produced under conditions where the manufacturer/processor didn’t pay for the costs they imposed on their neighbors and the world. Or we can have climate treaties like COP21 to move us in the right direction, all together, with no unfair trade advantages to anyone — so, regulation.

        • bill

          Please provide “documented costs” citations. More like EPA guesses.

          • Robert Monk

            Good call I don’t have docs ready to hand. But why do you trust Koch Brothers whose family business has routinely dealt dirty, vs EPA that has no financial incentive other than public good (and, maybe if I’m being generous to your argument, maintaining its own relatively minuscule budget so it’s people stay employed)?

            I do know for a fact that burning stuff imposes pollution on neighbors and the public, and that the nuisance/aesthetic cost alone of these emissions are more than what polluters pay in compensation to those impacted involuntarily (because, astoundingly, they pay zero!).

  • bill

    First Democrats want to tax them. When they find they can’t tax them they want to regulate them. And when they find they’ve run them out of business they’ll subsidize their return so people don’t freeze in the winter. (LIHEAP) Wash, rinse, repeat.

    • Guido

      That reminds of a Reagan quote that went something like this: If it moves tax it. If it doesn’t move regulate it. If it still doesn’t move subsidize it.

    • Robert Monk

      I often vote Dem, and I want to ban fracking. Even discounting costs in destroyed water supplies and ecosystems, coastal civilization cannot sustain methane leaks in transport, and CO2 in end use. Costs just to Pennsylvanians will far outweigh the dangerous toxic jobs, and we can heat with renewable electric, create more jobs that way.

      • bill

        What do you suggest we use when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine?

        • Robert Monk

          Levelized costs of intermittent sun wind and water renewables — including sourcing from out-of-area wind and sun to offset local variability via inter-grid connections, demand response smart grid resources like micro-switched thermal storage heating and lighting controls for large buildings and production/process day-ahead scheduling for industrial facilities, and/or energy storage (batteries, flywheels, EV fleets while parked, etc) will likely get cheaper than fossil fuels by 2020 — even before accounting for when fossils generating sources start getting charged the health costs of birth defects from mercury pollution emissions, asthma and other illness from various particilulates, further respiratory illness from ozone effects from NOx and SO2, various cancers, not to mention sea level rise from warming gases…

          • bill

            Rather optimistic but I’ll grant that tech will eventually arrive, but electric generation is only 40% of US energy consumption (EIA). What about the remaining 60% fossil fuels used in transportation, commercial, residential, and industrial?

          • Robert Monk

            The non-electric segment of the energy economy is hugely important and I share your distaste when eco types trumpet various milestones in % replacement of fossils in the electric sector, as if the larger fossil sectors don’t even exist. I calculated a year or two ago that the incremental volume growth in renewables that year would have to be repeated year after year for something like 2000 years to replace all fossils for energy. So there’s a lot of work to do.

            That said, growth *percentages* of 30% and more, as we’ve been seeing lately in renewables, don’t have to be compounded long to get massive, revolutionary changes in the energy economy, that add up to the fossils replacement we need in decades, not centuries or millennia. A 10% increase in 2020 will mean an *increase* whose volume is hundreds of times the *total* renewable resources that were on line in 2013.

            Electric cars are growing faster than any other vehicle type, and heat pump electric heat — especially geothermal heat pumps — are more efficient than any other fuel type — even if the electric source is still coal-powered, for now. But industrial society will have to re-order itself away from personal vehicles, since there doesn’t exist enough copper on earth, all the way to its magma core, to replace all the gas-fueled cars with electric-motor-copper-winding vehicles. Mass transit will have to step in, or people will have to work within a walk from where they live.

            Industry and commerce will work from these bases and simply have to adapt to the reality that earthlings — their customers! — can’t survive the status quo of fossil-fueled industrial processes, whether those be thermal chemical, conveyors, or what-have-you. The annual health costs from un-priced pollution externalities from a typical oil refinery, (leaky) methane compressor station, or chemical plant very likely exceed the salaries of local workers in the plant. So a re-ordering of industrial processes and products to reflect the real cost of external energy supplies (fossil fueled electric) and on-site process fuels, will improve the real economic situation of your average U.S. resident, and vastly improve the fairness of an economy where the poorest and most dis-enfranchised populations have been saddled with the worst-polluting fossils-burning neighbors.

  • doctorivy

    Liberty and freedom are scary. Especially for young people (read: college kids) who are about to face the prospect of fending for themselves. A “guarantee” of the basics of living is a seductive prospect. A roof over your head. Food. Medical treatment. And let’s say education opportunities as well. Is that asking too much? Shouldn’t we be guaranteed these things as Americans? Well, we are. If we’re willing to go to prison. Think about it.

  • crystalpoint

    Here we go again, just like Obama, Wolf is setting standards on Methane Emissions based upon faulty scientific data gotten from the EPA and the Obama administration. I as an expert can tell you that, no one in the Gas and oil industry, is more concerned with reducing harmful emissions then these (two) Industries. They will use the latest technology in attacking and solving such problems as (they) are! They do not need to be told by any Government State or Federal agency, how to solve such problems, based upon whims! They simply cannot chance, being attacked by Environmentalist’s hiding behind a every Tree!

    It is a fact that every enforced requirement that is placed on the Industry “whether it works or not”, the cost of implementing such new technology or new regulations that they “must” implement, will be passed on to the consumer!

    Would it not make better sense before setting new regulations, that all of you mentioned above, simply say to the Oil & Gas industry. Please, before you set new standards, to ask the Industry, to take a look at the alleged problems, and report back to all of the above concerned entities, with an answer that satisfies your concerns?

    Sincerely, Ray P. Smith, Sr.

    • kenneth weir

      When money talks bullsh-t walks , just saying.

  • Karen Feridun

    For anyone who wonders why Pennsylvanians feel like lab rats in a live experiment, here’s just the latest example.

    We have no idea how much methane is leaking into the atmosphere. And even the sources the administration is pretending it can regulate under Wolf’s new rules don’t take into account the hundreds of thousands of orphaned and abandoned wells the state has no handle on at all. Nothing in the new rules will address those leaks. The latest revision to the state’s oil and gas regulations won’t do nearly enough either. And so, in addition to the leaks that go unchecked, we run the perpetual risk of allowing new drilling too close to old drilling, setting the stage for methane geysers from the disturbed well. The one Shell caused in 2012 spewed for a week.

    Oh, and don’t go looking to the EPA for answers. The federal agency failed to keep up with the science for years. When it finally realized in 2014 that it was incorrectly considering the amount of methane leaked at well pads in to be too negligible to count, it started taking a more serious look at methane. Unfortunately, about a year later, a bombshell study revealed that a flaw in methane detection equipment meant that even their best measurements represented a mere fraction of how much was leaking. By the way, the study that forced the EPA to wake up to the reality of methane leaks was conducted in SWPA.

    As for the PA DEP, our state regulators are masters at failing to get a handle on fracking. Remember the story on fracking waste going into landfills in SWPA? In every case, landfill records showed more dumping than DEP records indicated. The worst were records for the company EQT. DEP’s records showed 20 tons had been dumped. The landfills’ combined records showed that it was actually 95,000 tons. And how about those letters of determination the DEP sends out in response to complaints of fracking-related contamination in private water supplies? Reporter Laura Legere had to go to Commonwealth Court to get the DEP to release those public documents. Why? According to the DEP, it wasn’t because they were trying to be difficult; it was because they didn’t bother to maintain a database of those records. The Auditor General called it when he said the agency was “woefully unprepared” to do manage the fracking boom.

    With so little credible data from his own agency to go on, Wolf clings to the belief that he can frack safely. He should try paying attention to the science instead and ban fracking.

  • Sam Miller

    Looks like the oil and gas industry is trying to mobilize their workers to post opposition to any new regulations. Paid to do it no doubt. Those $100,000 Christmas bonus checks handed out to fracking workers is just part of their tactics.

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