Pennsylvania Governor to introduce new, stringent rules on methane emissions

Inaugural ceremony of the 47th Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Wolf
Source: WikiCommons

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has declared war on fugitive methane emissions from shale operations – much to the chagrin of the Republicans who question the need for tougher regulation when according to the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) own numbers emissions from shale gas sites had declined 13 percent between 2012 and 2013. Methane emissions were up 6 percent between 2013 and 2014, but they are still below 2012 levels.

While methane doesn’t linger as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, in its pure state it is as much as 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide due to its effectiveness in absorbing heat.

The concern over methane emissions partially stems from the fact that the emissions data that DEP collects from the industry may turn out to be “unrealistically low” because leaks of the potent greenhouse gas are so common and rarely measured.

During a recent online seminar about the Pennsylvania’s new methane proposals, DEP Secretary John Quigley said: “We don’t know what actual emissions in Pennsylvania are, but we know they are far higher than the number that we are reporting,”

If accepted, Governor Wolf’s proposed rules for existing wells, which exceed EPA’s own regulations and standards, will put Pennsylvania – America’s No. 2 natural gas producer, at the forefront of environmental legislation regarding methane emissions. The new rules do not require legislative action and should be put in place within the next 12 to 18 months.

The shale industry opposes the new regulation arguing that – in the words of Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry – “(shale) businesses have a vested economic interest in getting gas to market in a responsible and efficient manner”. Stephanie Wissman, executive director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Petroleum Institute, an industry advocacy organization warned that “additional regulations on methane could discourage hydraulic fracturing and the shale energy revolution that has helped America lead the world in reducing emissions,”

Speaking to State Impact, spokesman for Seneca Resources, Rob Boulware, said it’s difficult to know what the costs will be at this point until the DEP releases more details on its required best practices. He says overall, the gas industry is singled out unfairly.

“If the goal is to protect Pennsylvania’s health, make decisions that protect Pennsylvania’s health,” said Boulware. “Don’t make decisions that target one industry and one industry only. The natural gas industry expects and deserves a fair playing field and to be subject to the same rules as other industries.”

The proposed regulation would only target shale wells and not the more shallow, conventional oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania.

Image: Inaugural ceremony of the 47th Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Wolf

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