Governor Tom Wolf’s framework of actions to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector in Pennsylvania could, if implemented, exceed limitations on methane emissions from natural gas well sites, compressor stations, and along pipelines already proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

EPA has proposed regulations that would set performance standards for emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds from new and modified sources in the upstream and midstream oil and natural gas sectors. Once EPA finalizes those federal emission standards, they will take effect in Pennsylvania, the nation’s second largest producer of natural gas. Governor Wolf’s plan, in large part, seeks to enhance federal provisions requiring new leak detection measures and rules designed to reduce and/or prevent methane emissions. The administration anticipates that implementation of the Governor’s framework could result in a 40 percent reduction of methane emissions from sources in Pennsylvania.

The Wolf framework calls for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to:

  • Develop a new general permit for new unconventional oil and gas exploration, development, and production facilities. The permit will require producers to purchase and install the Best Available Technology for equipment and processes, and will include more record-keeping requirements and quarterly monitoring inspections.
  • Revise the current general permit for oil and gas operations (GP-5) and expand it to cover new compressor stations and processing facilities, update emission-control technology requirements, and apply more stringent leak detection and repair programs. 
  • Reduce leaks at existing oil and gas sources—well pads, processing facilities and compressor stations—by promulgating regulations to cover existing sources. That proposed regulation will be considered by Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board, with the intent that a final regulation be adopted upon completion of the rule-making process.
  • Reduce emissions along production, gathering, processing, and transmission facilities, by coordinating with the Governor’s Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force to establish best management practices, including leak detection and repair programs, aimed at controlling or preventing fugitive emissions.

The oil and gas sector could see drafts of regulatory language as early as February, and hearing dates on the proposed rulemaking would be scheduled soon after. DEP intends to summarize how the new and revised general permits will exceed the proposed federal requirements shortly and post the summary on the DEP website. We expect a strong reaction from industry to both the federal and state changes.

Ballard Spahr’s Environment and Natural Resources Group has extensive experience preparing public comments on state rulemakings. The Group also advises on national and regional compliance, permitting, development, business planning, and contamination matters arising in connection with environmental and natural resources laws and claims, including a particular focus on climate change and sustainability.

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