Marcellus Shale drillers face new rules on pollution

Shale gas firms say Pa. measures will help air quality

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Shale gas drillers in Pennsylvania are facing new rules that will, for the first time, limit noxious emissions, including nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants.

The new state rules will be published Saturday in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and take effect immediately. According to the rules, shale gas drillers will be required to either get an air quality plan approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection before drilling a well, or implement practices and emission controls more stringent than federal requirements that took effect in April 2012.

The new rules end the 1996 blanket exemption granted unconventional shale gas wells from pollution control requirements.

Chris Abruzzo, acting DEP secretary, said Thursday that the new emission rules build on "existing federal requirements by continuing to set the high, but fair, bar we have come to expect."

The rules require well operators to do leak detection and make timely repairs for the entire well pad and facility, including condensate tanks containing so-called "wet gases" such as ethane, propane and butane. Emissions of nitrogen oxides must be reduced to less than 100 pounds per hour, half a ton per day and 6.6 tons per year. Federal rules do not limit those emissions.

According to Kevin Sunday, a DEP spokesman, the state's rules will also require that all flaring done for emissions control on gas storage tanks be enclosed.

According to the DEP, enclosing flares reduces emissions of volatile organic compounds and hazardous gases by up to 99.9 percent.

Patrick Creighton, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said the new rules will result in improved air quality in the state.

He said the coalition hasn't determined how much those requirements will cost the industry or which option -- getting state approval of an air quality plan or implementation of controls more stringent than federal rules -- most well drilling companies will choose to follow.

"Operators can either meet the tougher than federal conditions or go through the state plan approval process, which can take a long time," Mr. Creighton said. "Operators may be incentivized to meet the tougher standards."

According to Clean Air Council attorney David Presley, the council also commented on the proposed rules but hasn't had a chance to review the final language.

"If the wells are no longer exempt from getting a plan approval, that's something we asked for," Mr. Presley said.

businessnews - marcellusshale - environment

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983. First Published August 9, 2013 12:00 AM


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