Mike Lee, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, January 8, 2015
Pennsylvania’s incoming governor will explore ways to reduce methane emissions from natural gas production, a key goal of environmentalists who want to reduce the health impacts of the energy industry.
Tom Wolf, a Democrat who beat Republic Tom Corbett in November, has called for stricter regulation of the gas industry.
Wolf “will work with the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection to explore new testing and monitoring regulations,” Jeff Sheridan, a spokesman for Wolf’s transition team, said in an emailed statement. “Additionally, his administration will work with the private sector to promote the development of new technology that quickly and effectively detects fugitive methane emissions.”
The statement didn’t offer specifics of Wolf’s approach, and Wolf hasn’t appointed a secretary for the environmental department, which regulates most aspects of gas drilling in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania is on track to become the second-largest gas-producing state after Texas because of production from the Marcellus Shale field. The gas boom has brought jobs and tax revenue to the state, but it has also led to complaints about air pollution and other impacts.
Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas and is a powerful heat-trapping gas that contributes to climate change when it leaks.
A coalition of environmental groups, including the Clean Air Council, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and PennFuture, has been calling on Pennsylvania to regulate methane since May, saying it’s the easiest way to address the wide range of emissions from drilling (EnergyWire, May 2).
The groups reiterated the call in a news release yesterday, pointing to an October poll that showed 70 percent of Pennsylvania residents support regulating methane emissions.
The Corbett administration resisted the idea, saying Pennsylvania already has incentives for companies that have their own leak-detection programs and that the state’s air is getting cleaner.
Colorado, Ohio and Wyoming have all passed regulations on methane. Colorado requires oil and gas operators to check for and repair leaks at wellheads, tank batteries and other equipment.
U.S. EPA is also considering regulations on methane.
The environmental groups want Corbett to go beyond other states. One approach may be to require more frequent inspections, or to include a wider range of facilities in the regulations, Joe Minott, an attorney with the Clean Air Council, said in an interview. Cutting methane emissions could reduce emissions of other pollutants that are found in gas wells, particularly in southwestern Pennsylvania, he said.
“Pennsylvanians are starved for reasonable regulation of the gas industry,” Minott said in an interview. “That’s why we are so hopeful that Gov.-elect Wolf mentioned the need to adopt stricter regulations for this industry.”