Pennsylvania DEP introduces new rules to curb well-site methane emissions

Oil & gas rig
Source: DollarPhotoClub

Quarterly leak inspections with infra-red cameras and monthly walk-though screenings; cleaner diesel engines on drilling rigs; quicker repairs once leaks are discovered; 95 percent control of emissions of associated pollutants from storage tanks; and reduced bleed-off from pumps – are all among new standards for well pads introduced by Pennsylvania DEP in a bid to cut fugitive methane emissions.

The measures – announced last month by Governor Tom Wolf – aim to limit the loss of potentially marketable gas, that in its free form is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

As Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has pointed out, the oil and gas industry accounts for a quarter of U.S. methane emissions, with leaks in Pennsylvania alone likely amounting to more than $60 million worth of lost product annually.

Regulators are rolling out the new permits, first to cover new wells and compressor stations, which the department oversees now. They hope for a good up-take of the regulations, which try to walk the line between being effective and not too restrictive.

“We have an obligation here to make sure that we really have the cutting-edge technology requirements,” DEP’s chief of its air permits division, Krishnan Ramamurthy, told Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. On the other hand, he added later, “I don’t think it would be proper for us to propose something that few people can meet.”

DEP Secretary John Quigley said the agency’s strategy will push “practices and pieces of equipment that provide high return on investment, capturing gas that is not currently getting to market.”

At least in theory, companies should have an interest in capturing and selling the fugitive gas, but so far the experience showed that methane-emission rules have not been uniformly accepted by the industry.

Advisory board member Joseph Duckett commented: “It’s pretty rare when something that has minimal cost and pays for itself is avoided by a business,” while John Quigley added: “Some companies are smarter than others.”

“We cannot sit back and wait for voluntary compliance,” he said, “because it’s not happening.”

Unlike the current arrangement, the new standards will be set out in general permits, which establish a baseline of behavior. Companies would agree to comply with all of the terms of a general permit that have been set in advance for a whole class of similar sites, rather than seeking individual permits for each site.

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