Pennsylvania will begin enforcing tougher air pollution standards on its booming natural gas industry, the governor's office said Thursday, with environmental advocates saying the standards will put the state among the leaders in going beyond federal requirements.
The new permits will take effect in August and begin requiring the Marcellus Shale exploration industry to use more advanced equipment to reduce methane emissions and other air pollutants, control emissions from a broader array of sites and check for leaks more frequently along pipelines and connections.
The permits will apply to new or updated well sites and compression, processing and transmission stations along pipelines. The new permits could draw some sort of legal or administrative challenge from the industry, which says the permits will inflict new costs and delays on drilling new wells.
The announcement comes as Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is running for a second term in office, and environmental advocates could form an important part of Wolf's support base. Wolf's administration also has signaled that it will eventually move to apply tougher standards to existing equipment.
Pennsylvania is the nation's second-largest natural gas-producing state behind Texas, and the Marcellus Shale is the nation's most prolific natural gas reservoir.
Preventing methane leaks from well-site equipment and pipelines has become important for regulators because methane is a potent greenhouse gas.
Industry officials point to government data that says methane pollution is falling, even as production rises, and that companies have every incentive to ensure methane makes it into the pipeline, rather than the atmosphere.
Environmental advocacy groups praised the move.
Andrew Williams, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Washington-based Environmental Defense Fund, said the new requirements give Pennsylvania some of the toughest methane controls in the nation, going beyond Obama-era federal requirements in the breadth of facilities covered and the frequency of leak-detection checks that companies must perform.
The administration has worked on the proposed new permits for several years, and companies have been able to win changes that they had sought in the forthcoming standards.
However, industry officials have maintained that the permits will still mean steep new costs, including potentially more than $1 million per engine that helps run a compression, processing or transmission station, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade association, said in comments to the Department of Environmental Protection.
Companies also have criticized what they call a lack of clarity in how agency officials developed pollution standards in the permits, and said they will face longer waiting periods to secure the necessary permits and equipment.
Stephanie Catarino Wissman, of the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania, said Thursday that the state still hasn't justified its need to regulate methane or prove that it has adequate authority to do so through the permitting process.