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Wolf administration to tighten methane rules for drillers
"Pennsylvania State Capitol" by Ad Meskens - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Wolf administration to tighten methane rules for drillers

A proposal to require natural-gas drillers to reduce methane emissions will help make Pennsylvania a “national leader” in efforts to combat global warming, the Wolf administration said on Wednesday.

Requiring the industry to reduce methane leaks at well pads, compressor stations and processing facilities in the Marcellus Shale could result in a 40 percent reduction in emissions, Environmental Secretary John Quigley told reporters.

“We’ve looked at how the nation’s second-largest natural gas producing state can minimize its contributions to climate disruption in ways that make economic sense,” he said.

The Department of Environmental Protection said it will develop a new general permit for operators that would require them to use “best available technology” to detect and plug leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to warming.

An emissions inventory shows that unconventional gas wells, compressor stations and pipelines in Pennsylvania leaked 115,000 tons of methane in 2014, a number that Quigley said is almost certainly far higher because fugitive emissions are so difficult to quantify.

Many power companies have switched from coal to natural gas to make electricity, leading to a reduction in carbon dioxide, another heat-trapping gas. But Quigley said leaked methane could contribute as much to warming as five large coal-fired power plants, or more, undermining the environmental benefit.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, said companies have already taken steps to sharply reduce methane emissions.

“These positive results are a function of the industry’s widespread use of operational best practices and continuous investments aimed at protecting and enhancing our environment,” Marcellus Shale Coalition president Dave Spigelmyer said in a statement.

Quigley singled out Southwestern Energy, Chevron, Shell and Consol for praise, but he said other companies have not followed their lead. He argued that new regulations are necessary to force equipment upgrades and more frequent use of leak-sensing technology.

It wasn’t immediately clear how or whether the Marcellus industry, which is struggling with a collapse in prices, plans to fight the new rules.

In related news, APNewsBreak: Wolf plan seeks higher income, drilling taxes.

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