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For The First Time, PA Sets Methane Requirements On Natural Gas Wells

Joe Ulrich / WITF Methane leaks throughout the entire process of developing natural gas– from well sites, to storage and processing facilities and pipelines.

STATE IMPACT PENNSYLVANIA - Pennsylvania has joined a growing number of states in issuing new methane requirements for natural gas wells.

On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said it has finalized permits for new natural gas wells and processing facilities.

“We are uniquely positioned to be a national leader in addressing climate change while supporting and ensuring responsible energy development, while protecting public health and our environment,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a news release.

Pennsylvania joins states like Ohio and Colorado, which already have methane requirements for the oil and gas industry. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, and is the main component of natural gas. The oil and gas industry is the largest source of methane in the U.S.

The permits apply to new and modified wells and related compressor stations. The number of new wells drilled in Pennsylvania fluctuates every year, but is generally between 500 and 1,000. DEP records show the gas industry drilled 809 unconventional gas wells in 2017.

Wolf has said he will issue rules for the state’s 11,000 existing Marcellus shale gas wells, but hasn’t proposed any yet.

The permits for new wells will mandate companies do more frequent leak detection and repair at well pads than currently required by state or federal law, and allow the DEP to penalize companies that don’t comply.

“That’s why it’s critical the state is taking the lead on controlling methane pollution,” said Robert Routh, staff attorney at Clean Air Council, who praised Wolf for finalizing the new permits.

Leann Leiter of the environmental group Earthworks said the permits will help control not only methane, but other hazardous air pollutants, like benzene, a known carcinogen, which can be released alongside methane at a leaky well.

“We certainly are going to be impacted and are being impacted by global climate change, but I think it’s really key to realize that these permits are (going to be good) for Pennsylvanians,” Leiter said.

Leiter said the state needs similar rules that govern the state’s existing shale wells.

“Those are emitting significant amounts of pollution on a daily basis and so we need those sources to be regulated in a similar way,” Leiter said.