Pa. plans to regulate methane from drilling industry

By Mike Lee | 01/20/2016 08:15 AM EST

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration will impose new regulations on methane released from the drilling industry as part of the state’s aggressive campaign to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will revise its permitting process for new gas wells and pipelines by the end of 2016 and will also submit new regulations on methane from existing sources, the Democratic governor and DEP Secretary John Quigley said during a town hall meeting broadcast over Facebook yesterday.

"We’re uniquely positioned to be a national leader in addressing climate change while supporting and ensuring responsible energy development, creating new jobs and protecting public health and our environment," Wolf said.


Pennsylvania has become the second-biggest natural gas producer after Texas in the last decade, as new technology made it possible to drill into the Marcellus Shale formation.

Wolf took office last year promising to reduce the environmental impacts from drilling, while still allowing the industry to prosper. The DEP has also said Pennsylvania will be among the first states to meet its emissions reduction goals under U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan (ClimateWire, Dec. 4, 2015).

The idea drew applause from environmental groups, which have pushed the Wolf administration to get tougher with drilling companies, and complaints from business groups, which said the shale industry is already reducing its emissions.

"Pennsylvania already has more overall regulations than virtually any other oil and gas state," said Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, in a statement. "To impose additional and potentially costly rules on an industry that is both providing jobs and helping improve air quality is a step backward."

Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is estimated to be 24 to 36 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Critics say drilling contributes to global climate change because methane frequently leaks from wellheads, pipeline, compressor stations and other facilities.

Colorado proposed the first state-level regulations on methane in 2013 and was followed by Wyoming and Ohio. The Colorado rules required companies to search for leaks at gas wells with infrared cameras and fix them within a specified time frame (EnergyWire, Nov. 19, 2013).

Pennsylvania already had a leak detection requirement for some pipeline operators. The state doesn’t have a similar requirement for drilling companies but has allowed companies to avoid applying for a state-issued air quality permit if they have agreed to do leak detection (EnergyWire, May 2, 2014).

Under the DEP proposal, the state will develop a new general permit for natural gas wells by August that will require companies to check for leaks every three months and use the best available technology to control emissions. New pipeline compressor stations will also come under tighter permitting requirements.

For existing oil and gas wells, the DEP plans to "expeditiously" write regulations requiring them to adopt reasonably available control technology. Quigley said those rules could be submitted to the state Environmental Quality Board within 18 months.

Reporter Elizabeth Harball contributed.