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DEP offers more details on plans to curb methane leaks

State environmental regulators want to curb climate-damaging methane leaks from natural gas infrastructure, like this compressor station, which are used to move gas from wells through pipelines.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

State environmental regulators want to curb climate-damaging methane leaks from natural gas infrastructure, like this compressor station, which is used to push gas from wells through pipelines.

State environmental regulators offered more details Thursday about the Wolf administration’s efforts to cut methane emissions from Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry.

Methane is the main component of natural gas, and it’s a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change. Speaking at a meeting of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee, Secretary John Quigley called climate change an existential threat to the state.

“We need to take decisive action,” he said. “It is very plain that if the climate benefits of generating electricity from natural gas are to be realized, we have to minimize methane emissions.”

The DEP is creating a new general permit for unconventional (or Marcellus Shale) wellpads, which it hopes to complete this year. The agency is also drafting new regulations to curb leaks from existing sources such as compressor stations and wellpads, which Quigley expects will be finalized by the end of 2017.

The permit changes under consideration include things like a five-day timeline for companies to attempt to repair leaks after they are detected, tighter controls of volatile organic compounds, and dust reduction measures. DEP is also seeking to establish a list of best management practices for leak detection and repair along production, gathering, transmission, and distribution lines.

During the public comment period, representatives from environmental groups and concerned citizens who live near gas infrastructure praised the DEP’s efforts. Michelle Obid of Valencia, Butler County spoke on behalf of the Mars Parent Group, which has fought efforts by a gas company to place a wellpad near her children’s school.

“There is no excuse not to do everything possible to reduce the dangerous pollution from unconventional natural gas extraction,” Obid told the committee. “Please make these new methane regulations strong and meaningful.”

Aaron Jacobs-Smith is an attorney with the Clean Air Council. He also praised the methane strategy but remains concerned the new rules don’t address the older, conventional industry, nor the methane leaking from Pennsylvania’s thousands of orphaned and abandoned wells.

“It is something we’ve talked about a lot in the environmental community,” he said. “There are some studies that have looked at rates of emissions from abandoned wells and found that’s a pretty significant source of emissions. It’s definitely something we hope DEP will address.”

Krishnan Ramamurthy heads DEP’s Division of Permits. He says the agency is aware of those issues and hopes to tackle them in the future

“We are resource-constrained,” he said. “There are only so many things we can do.”

Drillers and pipeline companies have pushed back against DEP’s methane proposals. Stephanie Catarino-Wissman heads the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group representing the oil and gas industry. She believes the new rules could stifle the shale revolution.

“Onerous and unnecessary new regulations could have a chilling effect on the American energy renaissance, our economy, and our incredible progress reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” she said in a recent statement.

Comments

  • Tracy Carluccio

    The only way to control methane emissions from gas extraction is to stop fracking. The release of methane is uncontrolled during the fracking process and simply cannot be mitigated; the release of fugitive methane from gas well sites and infrastructure is overtaking our ability to curb global climate change at all. Until The Wolf Administration realizes that there are no climate benefits to be achieved from shale gas fracking, Pennsylvania will continue to be part of the greenhouse gas problem since methane is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a cause of climate change on a 20-year time scale – the years that are most critical in addressing climate change escalation and its disastrous impacts. We need a moratorium on fracking now.

  • Karen Feridun

    Where did my comment go?

  • ProtectOurWater

    Is there some sort of technical difficulty with this page?

    • Karen Feridun

      I think it’s more of a constitutional free speech problem.

      • Tracy Carluccio

        There was another comment here by Karen F but it has been removed. Why? It was very informative and on topic.

  • ProtectOurWater

    There is no justification for the further extraction of fossil fuels when alternatives like solar and wind are being embraced in countries throughout the world. Pennsylvania’s elected officials and corporate lobbyists continue to put profits before the people, and this is #Unacceptable.

  • crystalpoint

    To Governor Wolf and DEP: Did you know that, thousands of cattle are running around in the pastures near the Governor’s residence, in Harrisburg, emitting more methane gas, along with natural causes, then all the gas well development, in Pennsylvania!

    Tell me how the Governors plan to regulate the Gas Industry of limiting methane, is, “cost effective” or that it makes common sense, to attempt to regulate it?

    Ray P. Smith, a conservative, common sense Environmentalist

    • Don

      Are you saying that methane emissions from fracking is ‘ok’ because everybody else is doing it?

  • winterarrives

    Climate change is not only an existential threat to the state it’s a death sentence for all of creation. We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction that is wiping out species at a rate 53 times greater than normal. Why we continue with business as usual makes sense only in that the reality is too much to bear. The seas are rising, the plankton is dying, and our CO 21 targets will ensure us a 3 to 4 degree rise in global temps. We have a death sentence and to continue our addiction to fossil fuels and particularly one that is so toxic and destructive with radioactive waste and causing illness to those who have no say about where it occurs is insane, it’s a disassociated response. Spending millions and billions on new gas fired power plants and retrofitting old will not help to soften the blow. There needs to be an immediate switch to renewables and the solutions are out there, Pennsylvania could lead the way.

  • b_sure

    PA has been contaminated enough from gas extraction. It’s time for the DEP, EPA, and the governor to realize the future lies in renewables. Think of the job creation by promoting wind and solar. We need to be pro active and HALT all new permits, stop fossil fuel extraction and FIX the problems this toxic industry has created. The DEP has identified more than 250 families who have lost potable water from fracking related issues. Six years now, many have been without water and no end in site for it to be corrected. We can’t afford more contamination, and as for taxing this industry, how much will we charge them to continue to poison us? http://www.shalefieldstories.org

  • Karen Feridun

    Secretary Quigley’s steadfast denial of the voluminous scientific evidence on fracking is truly confounding. We are not well-represented by an administration that consistently puts industry’s interests over those of the public. Every reputable climate scientist has urged us to leave 80% of fossil fuels in the ground. Add to that the approximately 680 studies that cumulatively make the case for a ban on fracking and you really have to wonder how the Secretary justifies his full-throated enthusiasm for it.

    Stanford scholar Mark Jacobson has offered a roadmap to help governments transition to truly clean energy. Here’s his plan for Pennsylvania. http://thesolutionsproject.org/…/03/100_Pennsylvania.pdf The noteworthy thing about Jacobson’s plan is that he gets us through the transition relying on conventional sources of fuel – no fracked gas, no tar sands, no mountaintop removal needed.

    Instead, the Obama administration is touting its Clean Power Plan. Even though the plan has been held up by states that don’t want to comply, Pennsylvania is still aiming to finalize its plan by September. The terrible thing about the Clean Power Plan is that it trades off coal-fired power plants for natural gas fired power plants — a tremendously stupid idea. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide. This is not the time to be putting more reliance on it. That’s not me talking. That’s the International Panel on Climate Change’s position, especially since eliminating natural gas from the fuel mix buys us valuable time to deal with carbon dioxide. And let’s not forget that building all of those natural gas power plants requires a significant investment in the facilities themselves and the additional pipeline infrastructure to supply the gas. It’s a level of investment you don’t make for a so-called bridge fuel.

    The methane rules that the administration has been patting itself on the back for with the help of all of the compromised “green” organizations are just there to make it appear as if methane can be made safe. It can’t be and the rules aren’t actually designed to try that hard. They fail to address the single issue that should be the deal breaker for any further extraction — orphaned and abandoned wells. Secretary Quigley’s DEP has no handle on a legacy of hundreds of thousands of wells that are leaking methane unchecked. Efforts by environmental organizations to put the responsibility for capping the leaking wells on drillers about to drill new wells near them, something that can and has caused methane geysers to shoot from the old wells, was ignored by the DEP in the revision of the state’s oil and gas regulations that is still being finalized.

    The administration is desperate for a severance tax, so its representatives are obviously willing to say and do whatever it takes to put a happy face on a murderous industrial practice. Shame on them.

  • http://www.localharvest.org/farms/M18178 Maggie Henry

    Secretary Quigley speaks with a forked tongue!

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