The state Environmental Quality Board (EQB) recently approved a rule to control air pollution from conventional oil and gas wells in a last-minute attempt to avoid a federal sanction withholding federal highway funding.
The rule will limit the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), smog-causing chemicals, emitted by conventional wells. It will also cause a reduction in the amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, coming from those wells.
The same rule was approved in July for unconventional wells to try to avoid sanctions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that took effect June 16 and will require the state to offset double the emissions for major new air pollution sources. The December sanction would withhold $450 million in federal highway funding. The rule is necessary to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards set in 2008 and 2016. Conventional wells were removed from that rule because of opposition from trade groups and the House environment committee, which led to a lengthy review.
Pennsylvania treats conventional and unconventional wells differently, while the EPA does not account for any differences. Unconventional shale gas wells, which involve hydraulic fracturing, account for 20 percent of methane emissions, while conventional wells make up the resulting 80 percent. Conventional operators tend to be smaller companies with less capital than unconventional producers.
The Department of Environmental Protection estimates that the limits will reduce emissions of VOCs by 9,204 tons per year, and also cut methane emissions by 175,778 tons per year. It will apply to 4,719 operators, and cost them about $9.8 million per year to upgrade their controls. However, DEP argues that the operators will actually save money by capturing the leaking natural gas and being able to sell it.
While the rule was approved by a 15-3 vote it is opposed by the Republican chairmen of the state Senate and House Environmental Resources and Energy Committees. Should either committee oppose the new rule, it would lead to a lengthy review process and cause the state to miss the sanction deadline.