A state environmental oversight panel has given its approval to the Wolf administration’s efforts to contain methane emissions from oil and natural gas exploration.
The new rules approved Tuesday by the Environmental Quality Board would require oil and gas operators that produce above a certain threshold to use leak detection and repair equipment to identify and fix leaks, as well as use other equipment designed to reduce emissions.
The regulations are aimed at reducing emissions of smog-producing volatile organic compounds such as methane gas, from well sites, pipelines and other infrastructure, according to a statement from the Governor’s office.
The independent board is responsible for adopting environmental regulations.
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell said that the benefits of reducing methane emissions in Pennsylvania are two-fold.
“Both methane and VOCs are precursors to the formation of ground-level ozone, a public health and hazard that contributes to asthma and other lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis,” McDonnell said in a statement. “ “In addition to addressing climate change, the regulation will improve air quality across the state, ensuring that all Pennsylvanians, including particularly young and at-risk residents, are protected from harmful air pollutants.”
Methane is the primary component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas. It’s estimated that methane gas has leaked from thousands or sources of natural gas development and infrastructure across the state at a rate estimated to be five times higher than what is reported to the Department of Environmental Protection or over 500,000 tons annually.
Pennsylvania is the second-largest producer of natural gas in the country, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
In April, the regulation was criticized by the Clean Air Council for not including methane gas in its proposed rule. Over the summer, the proposal was revised by the Wolf Administration to include methane in its regulatory efforts.
With the board’s approval, the proposed regulation will now be subject to a public comment period beginning in 2020. Following the comment period, the DEP will draft the final regulation for consideration for the board.