Pennsylvania methane plan emphasizes best technology, leak detection

Pennsylvania’s government developed a four-point strategy to limit methane emissions from natural gas operations in the state. The plan would require the best available technology (BAT) on new unconventional well pads and more stringent leak detection and repair (LDAR) measures during exploration and development, processing, and transmission.

It aims to protect public health and the environment, reduce climate change, and help businesses reduce waste of a valuable product at well sites, processors, compressors, and pipelines, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said as he announced the plan on Jan. 19.

“Pennsylvania is the second-largest producer of natural gas in the nation behind Texas,” Wolf said. “These are commonsense steps that Pennsylvania can take to protect our air and reduce waste for industry. The best companies understand the business case for reducing methane leaks, as what doesn’t leak into the atmosphere can be used for energy production.”

John Quigley, the state’s environmental protection secretary, said Pennsylvania identified strategies already in use by the best companies in the gas industry, or those that are required by the federal government and other states. “These measures will pay for themselves in recovering saleable product that is otherwise lost,” Quigley said.

US Sec. of the Interior Sally Jewell mentioned Pennsylvania’s action a few days later when the federal department announced its own measures to curb methane emissions from oil and gas operations on onshore public and Indian tribal lands (OGJ Online, Jan. 22, 2016). Oil and gas groups in the state raised objections to the Pennsylvania proposal similar to those their national counterparts expressed in response to the federal plan.

Specifically, Pennsylvania’s new methane reduction strategy, as described on a new DEP web page, would:

• Use a new general permit that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will develop that requires BAT for equipment and processes, better record-keeping, and quarterly monitoring inspection at new unconventional well pads.

• Revise DEP’s general permit for processing facilities and compressors to update BAT requirements and apply more stringent LDARs and other requirements. A new condition will require the use of Tier 4 diesel engines that reduce emissions of particulate matter and nitrous oxide by about 90%, DEP said.

• Prepare a new DEP methane leak regulation for existing oil and gas operations for consideration by the state’s Environmental Quality Board. Revising this could take up to 18 months, Quigley said.

• Reduce emissions along production, gathering, transmission, and distribution lines with best management practices which DEP plans to establish, including leak detection and repair programs.

“When it comes to emissions from unconventional gas operations, Pennsylvania can be, and should be, a national leader,” Quigley said during a Jan. 20 webinar. “If the benefits of natural gas production are to be maximized, we need to minimize its methane emissions. If leading companies can reduce methane and [volatile organic compound] emissions, so can the rest of the industry.”

He noted that while gas production in the state has fallen recently due to a glut the industry helped create, it could rebound and expand significantly as prices improve. Early indications are that the Utica shale could be more productive than the Marcellus, he said. “It’s important for us to begin acting now,” Quigley said. “We don’t know how high actual emissions are, but we know they are higher than what we are reporting.”

Officials from oil and gas organizations in the state responded to the state’s announcement by observing that operators are reducing methane and other emissions by significant amounts already.

“Additional regulations on methane could discourage hydraulic fracturing and the shale energy revolution that has helped America lead the world in reducing emissions,” said Stephanie Catarino Wissman, executive director of API-PA, the American Petroleum Institute’s Pennsylvania division.

“Onerous and unnecessary new regulations could have a chilling effect on the American energy renaissance, our economy, and our incredible progress reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Catarino warned on Jan. 19.

In a Jan. 20 posting at the Pittsburgh group’s web site, Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) Pres. David J. Spigelmyer stated, “It cannot be overstated that shale-related methane emissions continue to steeply drop as production sharply climbs.”

Spigelmyer said MSC is committed “to working with lawmakers as well as state officials to focus on commonsense policies that encourage job-creating natural gas development, which has—according to [the US Environmental Protection Agency]—helped drive down methane emissions 81% since 2012.”

Contact Nick Snow at

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